Neither Real Nor Unreal

What do you do once you’ve acknowledged that global human civilization is in the final stages of decline into centuries or millennia of massive misery and suffering, possibly leading to the extinction of the species entirely, and along with it the ghastly extinction of billions of other species, perhaps even all life on the planet, as the collateral damage of our entirely unintentional folly?

Everything I have learned from studying human history and culture suggests that we believe what we want to believe, regardless of whether or not those beliefs are in any way supportable or aligned with reality. People believe fervently, unshakeably, in gods, in destiny, in progress, and other absurdities, not because there is any evidence to support those beliefs, but because we want to believe in them. Those ludicrous beliefs help us to cope, and provide meaning and purpose and continuity and structure to our lives, and that is enough.

We humans are not a rational species. We are entirely conditioned by our biology and our culture, and have absolutely no free will or control over anything we do. But we believe we have free will and control over these bodies and their actions. And that is all we need.

So what, I am often asked, do I believe, and how do I know it is anything more sensible or plausible than belief in gods, aliens, reincarnation or any other set of beliefs?

Of course, I have asked myself the same question. I have no patience with the dimwit self-styled philosophers who assert that without belief in our free will and self-control we would quickly descend into nihilism, madness, anarchy, and suicide. We do not have to believe that life needs to have any meaning, purpose, or direction, to enjoy life just for what it offers us. No other species has such a precondition for its functionality and evident happiness — it is enough for them to act according to their conditioning to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, and they seem, for the most part, much happier than the majority of humans.

Our human conditioning seems to be such that we continue to cling to life even when it is unnatural, terrifying, grief-filled and riven by trauma, illness, anger and many kinds of violence. I have often said we are not meant to live this way. Life shouldn’t have to be this hard. Most other creatures would not put up with what we put up with. Most other creatures seem to just be a part of a much greater whole than the body that we humans discern as separate and individual, engaged in an endless struggle with others. If the bodies ‘there’ die, then they die. For them, I think, there is no conscious other, no sense of separation, or of time. There is no need for any of those conceptual things.

For me to say nothing matters, nothing is important seems like a desensitized provocation, a denial of what it ‘means’ to be human, a cruel dismissal, a disengagement. But I would suggest that it is nothing more than a simple observation. Strip away everything that is dubious, non-sensical, incongruous, and then nothing matters, nothing is important  seems to me what is left, what is, for want of a better word, obvious.

Intuitively, this has resonated with me for a long time. My observation of the equanimity of other creatures, the untenability of most human belief systems, and the growing evidence from the sciences that time, space, the self and separation are illusory mental constructs, not real, have left me with this strange sense that nothing really exists, and that everything that seems to be, and to happen, is just an appearance, an arising out of nothing, for no reason or purpose.

This has been seen here during what some have called ‘glimpses’, when there was suddenly, just for a while, no ‘me’, and the weight of the world vanished and the ephemeral, wondrous, insubstantial and meaningless nature of everything was just obvious. To no one.

A few years ago I began to hear about and connect with others who not only had this strange, intuitive, resonating sense that everything we believe about the world and reality is illusory, they asserted that it was, there, ‘now’ always obvious that there was no one and no thing ‘really’ separate or ‘really’ happening, just appearances out of nothing, neither real nor unreal, without meaning or purpose. Listening to them has been my hobby ever since. I nod, and shrug. It’s a useless, unprovable, maddening, but fascinating and consolatory belief. It changes nothing.

Of course, the skeptic in me challenges that as well, especially since I find it so appealing, so seductive, so confirming of my own intermittent intuitions. What if this ‘intuition’ is just what Dave wants to believe, for the same reasons the deists and theists want to believe what they believe? What if it’s just my personal coping mechanism? Given my pessimism about the future of the planet, perhaps I’ve just desperately embraced this ‘radical non-duality’ belief because it is comforting to dismiss the coming massive-scale misery and suffering and failure as something that is not really happening, since there is, I believe, no such thing as real time and hence no future in which this awfulness will ‘really’ occur. And, hence, as there is really ‘no one’ and nothing really happening, no one is to blame, and not only did our seemingly troubled species not intentionally fuck up, we never really did anything at all. Case dismissed; you’re free to go.

Is this just Dave’s very human way of concocting a belief set that lets him and the rest of the species off the hook, since it holds that (i) no one had any choice about what has happened and, even better, (ii) nothing really happened?

But what about those others, speaking at meetings and on videos about this being ‘obvious’ there, that it’s not just something Dave, and others with similar proclivities, invented to help themselves feel better? Well, perhaps they too, all of them, have had some kind of psychic break that has led them to believe this nonsense about nothing being real or really happening. Perhaps we’ve infected each other with this now-well-rehearsed shtick, creating a collective sense of wishful-thinking self-delusion that gets reinforced whenever we talk with each other.

That is, of course, possible. When nothing is real, anything is possible. Especially when you really want to believe something is true. And radical non-duality is incredibly (in both senses of the word), and uniquely elegant. It really is an air-tight, internally-consistent ‘theory of everything’.

It is also possible, though I would think it unlikely, that in the score or less years of life remaining to this (apparent) body, this illusion of self and separation will seemingly ‘fall away’, and cease to afflict this body, and then, what has intermittently been seen ‘here’ as obvious, and wondrous, will be seen as having always been, prosaically, the case. If that were to (apparently) happen, it wouldn’t change anything. No one will notice, least of all ‘me’. This (apparent) body will continue to do what it has been biologically and culturally conditioned for 72 years (apparently) to do.

But there might be some (apparent) after-effects of the loss. There might be a subtle dropping away of the intensity with which this body clings to its beliefs, and its illusions. There might be a gradual easing of many aspects of this body’s brain’s interminable sense-making. And, since this blog presumes to be primarily a chronicling of the collapse of our civilization (and, lately too, the collapse of the sense of self and separation), it would seem likely that without a chronicler ‘left’, and without anything having any meaning or purpose any longer, new content on this blog might well slowly cease. Once the war ends, after all, the war correspondent is out of a job.

I wouldn’t count on it though. Since I’ve become infatuated with radical non-duality, it’s just become another category of this blog, something else to write about, and my writing volume is thus far unabated.

I’m not sure why. None of it matters. But it seems to be in my conditioning to blather on. Lost, scared, and bewildered, though perhaps a little less than before, I keep on doing and saying the same things, for no apparent reason. As Neil Young put it, in my soul song:

Sometimes I ramble on and on
And I repeat myself till all my friends are gone,
Get lost in snow and drown in rain
And never feel the same again.

I remember the ocean from where I came
Just one of millions all the same
But somewhere someone calls my name
I’m a harpoon dodger, and I can’t, and won’t, be chained.

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6 Responses to Neither Real Nor Unreal

  1. Jim Meyers says:

    Keep blathering on. I find it comforting.

  2. Benn says:

    If nothing is real this blog would not exist.

    I think all the philosophies, religions, the endless persuit of the Truth in science, etc are all surrogate activities used to try and cover up that we are not living in right relation to self, other, and place. We know we are following a wrong story deep in our hearts but mostly lack the wisdom to look down and admit it.

    When was the last time you felt fulfilment? Content? Probably a short moment, but it stands out in memory, and there may be a small voice whispering ‘this is how it should always be’?

  3. David Beckemeier says:

    Glad to see you considering your belief in radical non-duality. I myself have considered maybe it’s just another dream, no more valid or invalid than any other. For what does seem definite to me is we all are in our own dream, no two identical, though many similar.

  4. foglight says:

    You might enjoy following Indrajit Samarajiva, if you don’t already.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Indrajit is one of my favourites, and he and I have communicated on this subject. He’s an amazing guy.

  6. foglight says:

    oh that’s great that you already know indrajit. i hear echoes of his writing when i read yours, & vice versa, even though you’re such different people. that’s a compliment!

    you probably already saw this from today:

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