Trusting in Lost Memories

silencing the inner chatter
to hear the soft hum of celestial wisdom
lifting myself above the tumultuous tides
of my own mistaken mind

finding stillness in the radio static of consciousness
to tune in to the salient source of everything
surrendering the obsession for contemplating complex patterns
in favor of opening to the energy trying to be channeled in

life's challenge is a sweet irony
a call to remember what we are
amidst the chaos of time and space
to pause long enough to transcend them

humbling ourselves to the unknowable truth
to trust in forces we cannot control
to be guided by an unseen hand
down a foggy, confused path

learning to mirror the beauty of faith
reflected back in the eyes of the innocent
by the joyous confidence of children and small beings
with blindly open hearts

our trust will not be betrayed
only the temptation to doubt will mislead us
even so we are never lost
only learning new lessons

Love, Nature, Humor, & Suffering

Have you ever noticed something very particular and seemingly random suddenly coming up again and again in your everyday life? Almost as if the universe is calling you to pay attention to this specific thing? I know some people have this sensation often, even to the extent they start making every little thing extremely meaningful in some way. For me, this hardly ever happens. I have a very weak sense of my intuition. I never really think much of the strange coincidences that happen in my life. That made it all the more poignant to me how much this sign stuck out and refused to be silenced.

Over a month ago, I was in a training and one of the instructors mentioned the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. As she said it, I glanced at my bookshelf and realized, I had that very book! I hadn’t purchased it. I had gotten it secondhand from a psychologist that retired from my last job and left piles of books to give away to whoever was interested. I took a lot of those books, but hadn’t read many of them yet. I decided that I just had to read it now, but I was in the middle of another book so I put it off. Then I heard it mentioned on a few podcasts. One podcast host, just as I was thinking it, made a comment to the effect of “if I was playing sign’s from the universe bingo, two of the squares would have to be Viktor Frankl and neuroplasticity.” Chills immediately ran down my spine. Neuroplasticity was another pivotal concept I’d learned about in school that had changed my life and seemed to be endlessly talked about wherever I went afterward. I knew this book had something for me, maybe exactly what I was needing.

It’s not a very long book so I got through it pretty swiftly. Much to my delight, there were even notes in the margins from the psychologist that I had inherited the copy from. I took my own notes as well, and this is what I’ve taken away from Frankl’s text. What is the meaning of life? Or rather, what things give life meaning? Love, nature, humor, and suffering. These are the things that make life meaningful.

Frankl brought me to tears with his descriptions about how even in the face of the most horrific suffering anyone can imagine, inside the concentration camps of Auschwitz, with seemingly nothing left to live for, the image of his wife’s face in his memory was enough to give him strength and keep him going. It wasn’t necessarily that he felt he had to survive to see her again. He didn’t even know if she was still alive. But it didn’t matter. The love he had for her was real and could not be taken from him. The love itself was enough to keep living. I think we’ve all tasted the incredible power that love gives us, but his descriptions really drove home how inherently meaningful love is, that it truly can conquer all, even our own immense suffering and hopelessness.

He went on to explain, that despite the numbness the prisoners succumbed to after so much time engulfed in pain and suffering, the beauty and majesty of nature was still able to grip them. As they stood in agony in a filthy train car, supposing they were on their way to the gas chambers, they still crowded around the tiny window just to see the breathtaking image of the distant mountains against the horizon. He also recounts the story of one prisoner that tells him before she dies that the scraggly limb of a tree that she could see through the window at camp kept her going. She said the tree spoke to her. It said, “I am here. I am here. I am life, eternal life.”

As morbid as it may seem, Frankl also recounts the humor he and his fellows found even in suffering. Starvation, pain, humiliation, death, and disease were not enough to take away their ability to make light of it all somehow. Regardless of the situation, no matter how dire it may seem, we still have the power of perspective, even if only in fleeting moments. We can find the humor in even our darkest hours. And sometimes that is enough to get us through. No one is demanding we take life so seriously. There is so much power in laughter, especially dark humor and laughter at our own misfortune. The gift of humor is transcendent.

Finally, Frankl explains that there is meaning even in suffering itself. Although we try to find happiness and avoid suffering as all living beings do, there is still inherent value in the suffering that touches each and every one of our lives to some extent. Suffering can be seen as an opportunity. It can be a fortifying fire that turns iron into steel. Sometimes our suffering can be seen as a sacrifice, a way to protect someone else from the fate we now bear. What could be more meaningful than that? Love can make even the most bitter suffering a beautiful gift. While we don’t wish for suffering to stain our lives, it is not an evil if we can transmute it into a source of strength and spiritual transformation.

Near the very end of the book, when I thought I had already seen what the universe had directed me here for, I was moved more deeply still. A concept I had been incubating for a while now was presented to me in the most perfect phrasing, in words I hadn’t quite been able to grasp yet myself. Frankl used the example of a chimp being experimented on for a cure, but as this left a bad taste in my mouth, I thought of a better one. Consider a honeybee and its life’s work. As it flies from flower to flower, the bee is only concerned with collecting pollen to make honey for its hive. It has no hope of becoming privy to the larger significance of its daily labors. The bee will never know that in addition to providing for its fellow bees, it is pollenating the plants it visits. It is making it possible for an unimaginable abundance of life. It is giving life not only to the flowers and vegetation, but also the beings that consume them to survive. The bee is unwittingly the humble servant of all Earth’s life.

Faith for me is learning to trust that this grander scale of significance also exists for human kind, even if I’ll never see it or be able to understand. “What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life; but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.” This quote, right here, is the reason I believe the universe directed me to this book. This is the confirmation of the inner truth that I have been searching for. This was the universe patting me on the back and saying, “You finally got it. You’re on the right path.” My task in life is not to understand it all, like I once thought. My task is to keep going despite my lack of understanding, to learn to trust in something beyond myself. When I lost the belief in God, I also thought that I lost this higher purpose. But that isn’t true. I may not see an omnipotent being beyond myself, but there is still something. I don’t need to give it a name to feel the truth behind it. There is peace and beauty and strength in learning to surrender to the unknowable meaningfulness of life.

Beyond the Intellect

They gather like wolves on the boardwalk below. They’re howling for answers no wolf can know.

Mewithoutyou – Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume

I’ve been reading War & Peace these last few weeks. Pretty ironic considering the state of affairs in the world right now. Nonetheless, the passages I read last night were very insightful. One of my favorite characters, Pierre, is talking about God, religion, and spirituality with an old freemason. The conversation goes as follows:

He is attained not through reason, but through living.”

“I don’t understand,” said Pierre, dismayed at the doubts surging up inside of him. Put off by the vagueness and weakness of the freemason’s arguments, he felt the dread of unbelief. “I don’t understand,” he said, “why human reason cannot attain the knowledge you speak of.”

“The highest wisdom and truth is like unto the purest liquid which we try to absorb into ourselves,” he said. “Can I receive that pure liquid into an impure vessel and judge of its purity? Only through the inner purification of myself can I bring the liquid received within me to some degree of purity.”

While I still don’t believe in the Christian God or the Bible, and have a general distaste for this particular expression of spirituality, I do think these words have a certain truth to them. I may not be religious, but in recent years I have come to consider myself a spiritual person. Hidden inside the horrors of the churches that have cropped up around the world in various forms, is a poignant, important truth. I don’t think it’s merely a coincidence that all forms of religion seem to share very similar threads. There is wisdom to be obtained there. I once held logic and intellect above all else, scoffing at the idea of faith. Now I think there is a place for both.

I used to believe that everything could be understood through science and reason. My experiences with psychedelics, more than anything else, have opened my mind to the idea that there are things our minds are just not capable of grasping. There are states and perspectives we cannot even conceive of. I’ve always been a curious person. As a child I had so many questions that seemed beyond answers. I contented myself on the idea that after I died, I could ask God. Then I would finally know everything and nothing would be a mystery to me. When I lost my faith, I also lost that comforting thought of finding answers one day. Now part of me thinks that far away hope might not be entirely off.

“You’ll die and all will end. You’ll die and know all, or cease asking.”

Will the new view I tentatively hold of death, I think it’s possible I may still have all the answers some day. When this fragmented consciousness disconnects from my mortal form, it will be submerged once again in the larger ocean of all that is. I want to believe that there is peace in that dissolution. That I will once again understand and remember all that I have forgotten in order to take part in this earthly existence. Yet, even this explanation isn’t exactly right. Part of me feels sure that whatever the real answers are, the full truth of reality is something that we simply cannot comprehend or conceptualize in the brains we are currently working with as humans. That is why no answer appears sufficient or correct, testable, or provable. There are no satisfactory answers that we can obtain in this life regarding those large existential questions of who am I, what is this, why am I here.

These questions and our endless, futile search for definitive answers to them have caused suffering throughout all of human history. We wrestle constantly with the gnawing ache to know things that cannot be known. This is were I believe that faith becomes a valuable asset to us. Faith can be twisted and used to manipulate the masses to bow to corrupt authorities, and for most of my life, this seemed like its sole purpose, to trick and take advantage of people. Now I find myself longing for a more abstract and vague faith. Not a faith in some supreme, all-knowing being. Not faith in the institutions of mankind. But a faith in the idea that there are things at work in the universe that I cannot comprehend.

This form of faith is a great comfort. It is a surrender. It is the acknowledgement that I do not understand, that I can never understand, and that that’s okay. I don’t have to keep struggling and suffering for these important answers. I won’t find them. I may not even be asking the right questions. There is such peace in trusting that everything is as it should be. That everything is going to be alright, even if you can’t fathom how. There is a reason, an explanation for all of this seemingly random chaos out there somewhere. We must accept that we are only working off of very limited, myopic understanding. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all we’ve got to go by and we have to keep going despite not having the full picture.

In this way, faith is a necessary part of life for all of us, it is a constant practice, whether you consider yourself religious/spiritual or not. Faith is that energy inside of us, that yearning, that momentum that keeps us going despite all the pain, the suffering, the confusion, the doubt. It’s scary to relinquish control in favor of faith, but it is what we all must do sooner or later. Logic, reason, knowledge, and intellect can only take us so far. Certainly use them and value them. They are essential, important, wonderful tools. But also know that it’s okay to let go and surrender to the unknown, the unknowable too. It’s going to be okay, even if we can’t understand how. Everything is as it should be.

Unknowable Energy & Raising Your Vibration

Have you ever encountered someone who you immediately felt at ease with? Someone who, without word or gesture, signals something within you that evokes a sense of safety and unspoken understanding? Every week when I do my grocery shopping after work, my eyes hopefully scan the self checkout for my favorite cashier. I’ve only “met” this person a handful of times. I don’t even know his name. But there is a palpable connection between us that I can’t help but imagine he feels just as clearly as I do. There is a certain magnetic quality or gravity in the air between us. Often it’s hard for me to get a read of people or what they’re thinking/feeling, but other times, I feel completely confident that they like me and enjoy my presence as much as I enjoy theirs, however inconsequential it may be.

What exactly is this indefinable quality I pick up in certain people, and how exactly am I sensing it, by what means, when on the surface, everything is so mundane and commonplace? Do other people feel this strange, instant connection? Are they drawn to the same people that I am? Is it something inherent in these particular people that sets others at ease and draws people in? Or do we all have our own brand of energy that captures the attention of specific, compatible people?

I’ve recently heard someone complain about the idea of such “energies.” They rightly proclaim that energy is a measurable quality that can be quantified. Still what would you have me call these more ethereal sensations? I agree they aren’t necessarily “energy” but then what are they? I’ve got to call them something. My education in psychology would lead me to believe that this is just an expression of unconscious biases that have formed from past experiences. Perhaps someone with a similar facial structure or tone of voice was once important to me. Maybe they remind me of my mother. Maybe I get “bad vibes” from someone who resembles in some slight way a school yard bully. This explanation does not satisfy the reciprocity of this experience though. Why should the other person feel similarly toward me? Perhaps I also subconsciously respond to them in a more agreeable, charismatic manner because they have set me at ease, but I genuinely don’t believe myself to behave very differently. After all, how differently could one respond within the span of a few pleasantries at a grocery store checkout?

In the same vain I can’t help but believe in the idea of “vibrations,” particularly “raising your vibration.” Even though I can’t explain it, I’ve felt it. I’ve felt the way that in certain states of mind, spiritual practices, an almost divine sense of awareness, moving realizations and impressions come easily to me. Yet the very same thoughts in a less positive state of mind seem ridiculous and leave a bitter taste in my mouth. This drastic shift can even occur within the span of a day, even a few hours! Physically though, what has changed? The only answer that somewhat satisfies this question in my mind is that I am in either a higher or lower energetic state. The words themselves may amount to utter nonsense, but nevertheless, the experience remains. I can see the effects of these different states in my self-talk, in my entire body.

All of these questions remain frustratingly unanswerable as far as I can tell. They are hard enough to verbalize, let alone understand empirically. New, more pressing questions naturally arise from them. How can I utilize this strange shapeless coexisting reality of vibrations and energies to my benefit? Are these energies destined to only be felt, never directed or created? There are many sources online that claim to offer advice for “raising your vibration” but despite my best efforts, they never seem to result in the desired change in me. One obstacle is the practical impossibility of performing some of the vibration raising activities when I find myself in that lower energetic level. I guess it could be said that it just takes persistent practice. After all, I seem completely capable and well versed in lowering my vibration. One thought or critical word is all it takes to destroy my good mood and positive mindset.

My impression at the moment is that these abstract, slippery sensations are not to be understood intellectually. The manipulation of such things (if even possible) is not a skill that can be taught to us. We must each learn to notice, accept, and respond to these inner mysteries in our own unique ways. While this is far from a satisfying answer, it’s all I’ve got for now.

Artwork | Alex Grey