Stupid Questions


A few moments ago, I gave my dog a bath.  I’d been unconsciously stroking his head as I sat out on the balcony and noticed he’d accumulated quite a bit of grime since his last ablutions.  It seemed as though he’d been washed very recently although in reality, I’d neglected that chore for over a month and a half.  “How did you get so filthy already?” I asked my non-conceptual, non-verbal pet.  Quickly understanding the silliness of posing such a question, I tried again: “How did a month and a half go by so fast?”  Strike two.

Two weeks ago today, I was on an airplane on my way to New Jersey to attend my mother’s funeral.  The preponderance of emotion inherent in that situation ensured that it left a greater imprint on my psyche than did the occasion of the last time I bathed the dog.  Though the images in my memory from that weekend are considerably more vivid than those I retain of routine daily events, they seem distant, as if my mother’s death and its immediate aftermath happened years ago.   As it is a human tendency to take refuge in the mundane and the familiar, when life’s unforeseen but inevitable upheavals occur, our minds are forced — usually under considerable duress — to immerse themselves fully in the situation at hand lest we risk unskillful negotiation of a delicate situation.  We say that we “rise to the occasion” or other self-congratulatory platitudes because this reminds us that the person enduring the unexpected event is the same person who engages in comfortably predictable day-to-day activities most of the time.  But is it the same person?  Right now, I feel like a guy who just gave his dog a bath and then for some unfathomable reason, decided to sit down and write about it.  I do not feel like a guy who recently flew home to bury his mother.  Who am I?

That simple existential question, “who am I?” is the key to understanding our glaring misunderstandings about our lives and the meaning we apply to them.  But if the question is posed with attachment to the ostensible subject of the query, it can also become the root cause of our suffering.  In other words, “I” should be understood as a feeling, not a concrete phenomenon and “who” should be understood as a verbal convention that merely posits the inquisitor as a consciousness as opposed to a teacup.  The question is only useful if it calls our sense of self into doubt because this solidification of fluid process into static entity is humanity’s first, biggest and only significant mistake.  (Rabbit Hole aside: can anyone actually make a “mistake”? Who decides that an action is wrong and by what inherent standards?  Are there any inherent standards?)

The Buddhists instruct us to do it like this, in a series of maddeningly specific queries designed to elicit a clear understanding of what we’re not: “Am I my body?  Am I my mind?  What is my mind?  Am I my thoughts?  Am I my beliefs?  If I am my body, then what is my elbow?  If I am my mind, then why has this allegedly static entity “changed its mind” about so many things over the years?  Am I a soul?  If so, where is that located?  Is mind a less mystical sounding word for soul?  If I am the soul and the soul is eternal, then I am eternal – so why am I afraid of dying?”  And so on.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this line of inquiry should result in the complete disappearance of the greatest adversary you’ve ever known: “your” Self.

When you stop viewing yourself as solid and eternal, unfettered life can begin.  Interconnection isn’t just a spiritual idea but the true nature of all phenomena.  All of us are closed-ended processes that constitute mere droplets in each generational wave of our species.  Our species is a closed-ended process that constitutes a mere droplet in the current transformational wave of the phenomenal Universe.  The moment you are born, the life-long death process begins, just as the dissolution of the Universe began at the moment of the Big Bang.  But since every back must have a front, the birth process is also inherent in death.  Existence implies non-existence and vice-versa.  Eternity is a compelling chimera and it only seems attractive to us because we’ve never really taken the time to think it through.  Those who would live forever should expect to find themselves devoid of values or even basic meaning were their wishes to come to fruition.  An eternal organism can have no identity because in infinite time, such an organism would do, say, think, and be everything that can possibly be done, said, thought and classified infinite times over.  Do you really want to experience what it’s like to be Donald Trump?  Or a leper on the streets of Mumbai?  Or JoJo Siwa?

Eternal life – a wishful notion that is the same as an endless spiritual existence in an afterlife of perpetual joy or suffering (which also serves to solidify the abstract notion of justice, another of the imaginary meanings we append to our lives) – is patently illogical.  “Eternal paradise” would not be experienced as such.  Without the relativity of opposites, the paradisiacal aspects of such an existence would go unnoticed.  I would not have noticed that my dog was dirty this morning, had I not been familiar with the characteristics of a clean dog.  My mother’s passing would have had no impact upon anyone had she not lived, nor could she have lived without the inevitability of her death.  There is no back without a front, no darkness without light, no pleasure without pain.  Duality guides our thoughts and emotions, while unity is the universal law.  No amount of wishful thinking can change this, but such thinking does make the experience far more difficult than it needs to be.

Because we refuse to analyze the soundness of our ideals and the reality of our beautiful mortality, we continue to ask moronic questions with the real expectation of receiving sensible answers.  I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone reading this that you understand why such unsophisticated theological queries as “why does god let bad things happen?” are replete with naive assumptions.  But what about, “how can people treat each other so badly?”  Is that any more sensible?  The good needs the bad and the bad needs the good and no other species insists on classifying things with such egotistical judgment as we do.  World events, no matter how seemingly cataclysmic, are nothing more than the ebb and flow of light and dark.  Were either of these forces to become dominant, what we call “progress” would stagnate.

A world of perpetual joy is a catacomb.  Shedding ideals and imagined meaning is the path to freedom.  I miss my mom, but my dog is clean.  And thus, everything is perfect.

11 thoughts on “Stupid Questions

  1. I have no belief, nor strong disbelief, in any post-death theories. But I believe in my own mind’s ability to cope, and see our mother lying beside me in prone yoga poses, enjoying her previously non-existent physical freedom to copy me and her persistent ability to laugh at the things I do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In September of 2010 I lost my mother. She had been suffering for some time so it was a “good” thing, as bad as it was. I wished she hadn’t suffered (or smoked for 60 years) and wish she’d been happier in life and hadn’t died, but none of that is up to me. I still wish I could call her sometimes and say “why didn’t you tell me there’d be days like these?”

    After she died I went insane. I didn’t see that one coming but there I was, facing mortality for the first real time in my life. I decided nothing mattered, and further decided to throw away my marriage and content life. Luckily I married extremely well and my wife would have none of that and we survived my final(?) earthly act of self-destruction. I came out of that period of life knowing who “I” am like never before. But, damn, it was rough, Paul.

    “I’m sorry” doesn’t seem to be appropriate, considering the breadth and depth of your soliloquy, but I am sorry for your loss nonetheless. Deeply sorry. I can’t know how you feel but I certainly know how I felt, and how much I cried and how much I otherwise destroyed.

    But I live on. And I still want to live forever. 😉

    With all its aches and pains and glories and triumphs I want to live forever with the ying and the yang. Eternal conflict if not eternal joy (or misery). That’s the life for me. Or it would be, if I could solve the equation of time.

    It goes without saying I am happy to have you back. You make words look easy, and nobody anywhere can conceptualize like you. Whoever Paul is I’m glad he’s here, asking stupid questions.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Paul, I hate that this is your first post sans accounting for your I’m back one. Then again, an enlightened one would say that it’s all part of how things are.

    Fuck that! I am not that enlightened. I still miss my dad. There are more times than not I wish he were here for me to ask adult questions. The ones I should have asked but was too immature at the time. More questions, it seems.

    Thankfully my Mom is still here, but I know time ever marches forward.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. We are, among other things, afraid of everything we don’t know exists for sure, everything we haven’t experienced, including eternity. We’d like to know that the eternal soul exists, which doesn’t prevent us from being afraid of dying though.
    The eternal quest, on the other hand, to discover who we are seems like a satisfying answer to me.

    I’m sorry for your loss and really glad to read you again. Welcome back, Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jesus Paul, sometimes you give me brain candy and other times you make me re-read paragraphs and open up the dictionary. I’m glad to see you writing again as I believe it a therapeutic exercise.

    On the subject of dogs, this morning I googled “what colors do dogs see” (just because) and found a chart which shows the color that I recognize and the corresponding color the dog sees. I got to thinking that it’d be interesting to see famous pieces of art or a picture of my living room where the colors used show us humans what our best friend sees. I’m sure it wouldn’t be complicated for someone (not me) to create a software program that could easily do this. But in this vein, I challenge you to write one or more posts from your dog Jesse’s perspective (“Coffee talk with your host, Jesse”). Brain candy or not, I suspect it could be fun and perhaps a provoking exercise.

    Once you’re done with Jesse’s blatherings (you know that once he starts he’ll turn into a real chatter-box), you could expand to other personas like Maria, your illegal downstairs neighbor, the Donald, Rosie O’Donnell, Frankenstein or Charlie Brown (Good Grief… Psychiatric Help, 5 cents).

    Later friend,

    Liked by 2 people

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