nightswimming

Only the fool would do such a thing, and I know for a fact that none of you are fools. The Baltic sea is not even 10° C, so of course you wouldn’t; you’re all eminently sane people, after all, and as anybody sane knows, there’s no such thing as swimming, in the Baltic, at this time of the year.  And the air, by midnight, is not much warmer than the sea. So I know you wouldn’t. Nobody would. Unless. Unless, of course, they were utterly raving mad. Then maybe, only maybe. You’d have to be a death-defying lunatic (or a polar bear) for attempting it, and mad like that you shouldn’t be. You should be rational. Seeing things sanely. Keeping yourself safe and warm. I, of course, would never recommend anything else. Like any sane person, I’d stay away from the sea. I’d say, don’t be tempted by it, not by its salty attraction or its alluring perfume of sea-weed. Don’t be crazy.*

As you might have guessed by now, mr Dog and I have spent some days on the island, amongst sun-burnt cliffs and the lush and exuberant greenness of late spring, and returned to the city on thursday evening. We’ve had time to think all kinds of thoughts, not all of them entirely productive. Never underestimate nature, is one of those, and it is, indeed, a multi-layered one. (No, mr Dog did not kill a real bunny, only a supersensible one and a plush rat.) Never underestimate the power of the busy sea turning, after sunset, into dark-grey stillness and silence. Never think tranquillity won’t do anything to you; it will. As will the sky, with its few pale stars that are visible on a light summer sky. In fact, these particular burning objects of the cosmos must be the largest and closest to our earth, not the palest. Some of the brightest are probably planets, not stars. Things aren’t what they seem. There’s a sky full of stars rendered invisible by the summer night. I know, if only because they were there last autumn. I have no use for my star map now, or for the smartphone’s Google sky map. It will be a couple of months. Let’s not think about that. I don’t want to go to sleep, when I’ve just woken up.

Because the spring is almost over, the nights are light and the scents of early summer rise from the soil and the vegetation at dusk and at dawn, and you cannot protect yourself from them. They enclose you, and make you want to bow down and inhale; they make you want… infinitely more. It’s just that the air is only saturated so much, nature wants to keep its subtlety; all you can ever have is a forceful whisper. So we walk; we take our evening walks in that cathedral of old oak trees and light green birches and archipelago pines, breathing the incense of nature itself. Then, returning home, slowly recognizing more and more of the soft, salty scents of sea. You can’t breathe water, no matter how tempting.

Sometimes spiritual people, when asked to define what spiritual is, say that it’s the experience of art, of nature, of a piece of music, or something else they happen to appreciate. I use the word experience, because I can’t find any word more appropriate and broad enough to describe this. But, to me, this description seems slightly nonsensical. Then you have to ask — are their experiences, really and truly, any different? Are they somehow deeper? Somehow more meaningful? How, then? Or are they simply elevating themselves, feeding a superiority complex? And, by the way, where do awe and reverence ever get us — apart from away from the moment, from experience to duties? What I feel most suspicious of — possibly more suspicious of than of the supposedly fuller ‘experiences’ of spiritual people — is spiritual utopia. Of placing the state of human spiritual perfection at some point in the elusive future — in that epoch or state of mind we’re not yet capable of attaining. It’s always elsewhere, and never where we are. Always in another place, another time, in other circumstances. And, strangely, it’s always about getting there, about the arduous work of humanity on the path towards a goal, whose properties are almost (if not actually) intangible. It’s not about the fullness of the experience of the moment. Strangely, because it’s somehow paradoxical — isn’t it?

Why is it that those who claim that science can’t have all the answers also seem to be those who are most inept at accepting that our human knowledge is imperfect and start inventing intricate systems of explanations? Who is it that can’t bear to live with the unknown? Is the unknown so difficult a burden that an irrational explanation — encapsulated, funnily, in a seemingly rational, logical system of irrational beliefs — is better than none at all? But this seems to go against the popular spiritual idea that ‘everything’ can’t be explained. And yet… if you ‘buy’ anthroposophy, you have an explanation for virtually everything (for being, supposedly, a ‘method’ not a teaching, it certainly presents a wide range of doctrines). Who is it that needs the comfort of an all-encompassing explanation of life, the earth, cosmos and everything and who needs the promise of a future spiritual utopia? Anyway, to me the rationality of the system of irrational ideas and the quest for an ever more perfect future, seem quite bereft of something essential.

It’s lacking in the opportunity for elation — of the moment of elation amidst all the imperfections of life. It focuses more on a duty towards what can be and what can become, not on what is here and now. I guess, then, you really need reincarnation, because you have to postpone enjoyment — perhaps even the desire for it — to your next time around or even to a future state of consciousness… and, for some reason, the descriptions of these future states never portray them as very enjoyable either, except, I guess, at that point in time you’d see it all with other eyes, the new, spiritual eyes of the future, not yet even imaginable. I suppose I’m asking of spiritual enlightenment something it can’t be according to some or even most spiritualities — I’m asking that furthering humanity should not mean to remove its humanness (which seems to be one of the goals). That we should stop being what we are, to further progress — towards, well, something utopian. My question, though, is can you have the lows without the highs? The warmth without the cold? What is perfection without its contrast? And is it worth it? Why do people need to fully explain and systemize everything, even if it means they must to grasp any straw — and it appears spiritual people are no different from others, but instead arguably worse? So much for leaving the mysterious a mystery, so much for leaving things we can’t explain unexplained (for now). Instead, inventing the most intricate system of unlikely explanations that you can imagine.

You can’t do, I think, without the highs, not in this incarnation or epoch — not even with the promise of blessings in next epochs or of stages of planetary evolution when we’ve shed our physicalness and dog knows what else of that dreadfully human stuff that causes as much pain as it causes pleasure –, and why should you? Why do we need a system of explanations (that explain little) or a future of perfection (and thus of humans lacking some chief human characteristics like imperfection and limitations in knowledge)? Why do we need to get rid of the contrasts, of ahriman and lucifer and opposing forces and whatnot, for the benefit of a state of harmony and completeness, harmony without insecurity and without elements of the unknown?

I’m suspicious of any spirituality that places perfection somewhere in the future, in some seemingly distant state of things or state of mind, possibly not attainable for those who remain merely imperfect humans. I’m suspicious of anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that for brief moments, here and now, there is something resembling perfection — but for the rest of it, we must accept the imperfect, the paradoxes and the contradictions and the fact that, for all we do know, we don’t know all. My own brain is too small. I have to accept that there are both knowable and unknowable things that I will never know. That’s ok too. I don’t exactly need invented un-knowledge to fill up the space. There’s so much else to fill the space with.

So, what is there in spirituality that us non-spiritual among the human race do not possess? What have the spiritual attained that we can’t?

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*I always wanted a post with that title and now I have one, appropriately or not; at least, one might argue, it’s swimming, or drowning, in thoughts and in nonsense! (Hopefully charming; charm is the only thing that can rescue nonsense from well-deserved oblivion.) You can watch the utterly adorable Michael Stipe singing the song, though, while remaining as sane as you always were. Listen to this live version. At one particular moment in the song, it’s much more beautiful than the studio version.

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