Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Obliteration of the Self"--a rough draft

I feel alive and content in the small world that surrounds my desk with the night all around it.

When I first read Orwell's 1984, about six months ago, a small detail hit me with great force. I've only just now understood why it resonated so for me.

"In Oceania the prevailing philosophy is called Ingsoc, in Eurasia it is called Neo-Bolshevism, and in Eastasia it is called by a Chinese name usually translated as Death- Worship, but perhaps better rendered as Obliteration of the Self."

I was raised in a cult, one that found its sources in Hindu mysticisms, as most late 50's early 60's cults did, and I've always assumed that it was the fact that my home religion was a cult that made it so destructive for me, but now I think that I realize that the fundamental thing I feel so grateful to have escaped is not the cult, but the idea of the importance of 'overcoming' the mind. 'Spiritual Exercises,' as we called them growing up, or simply meditation, involves a concentrated blanking out of the mind. What is ideal is a state of mind in which you are able to force yourself to completely cease to have thoughts enter your head. In this state, it is thought, will the holy spirit be able to enter you.

As I grew up, I internalized this idea, and in my everyday life, in every moment I could remember to, I strove to exercise this principle of blanking my mind and I sought to live my life in what I thought of as a state-of-mind receptive to spiritual awakening. It was a beautiful idea. But it also made me weak, and vulnerable, and helpless, and also incapable of passion. To tell you the truth, growing up, I hated it when people would ask me what a book was about, because I had a lot of trouble explaining plot. I was reading the book, I was enjoying it, I could answer any test question concerning any detail on any page, but I couldn’t analyze it on my own in any way, not even for such a small thing as putting together a succinct plot summary.

When I was in high school me and my boyfriend stumbled upon a small cache of prescription painkillers in my dad’s cabinet. I was stunned by the discovery, and kept a close tab on the stash for a long time after that. The number of pills never changed, and after a while I figured the pills were just my dad refusing to throw out extra medications left over from wisdom teeth surgeries and the like. But my boyfriend of the time told me that my dad’s whole character supports an addiction to painkillers, that when we found those pills everything clicked for him about my dad. He’s a big, lumbering kind of guy who always pauses a little longer than normal before answering, who moves slowly and really seems to have hardly any interests (outside the cult, of course). He refuses to make any decisions, deferring to my mom in everything, and hardly ever talks. When you say hello to him, and ask him how he is, he answers you briefly as if forcing the words out is a heavy task. But despite all the behavioral evidence, I don’t agree with that boyfriend, that my dad has a secret painkiller addiction. I think it’s just proof of the power of meditation. My dad’s mind is a blank. He’s worked hard for that bliss, and it is patently obvious.

When you don’t have to think, you don’t have to hurt, or feel lonely, or afraid. You don’t have to think about death, or whether you’ve wasted your life. It’s comforting. It really is. I had a good childhood. In the cult I was loved, so loved, and I was so safe. Everything was so easy, and I was very happy. I cannot fault my parents, or any of the friends I grew up with in the cult, for seeking such all-enveloping all-defining solace in this way. A blank mind is a warm blanket and a strong house against a fearsome world. But now, in the fullness of my mind’s capacities, I reject the emptiness of the mind which is brought on by earnest meditation. The rejection of the mind is a rejection of the unique human capacity to take in and analyze the world. In the attempt to overcome the mind in the search for a higher consciousness, this world, the only world we know for sure we’ve got, is scorned. In this life, the only life we know for sure we have, we can only find fulfillment through our interactions with this tangible universe. A life spent in meditation, in seeking to deny the world, is I think one of the most perfect ways to completely waste a limited span of sentient existence which we cannot understand the meaning of and which will someday cease.

What am I but the thoughts I think and the feelings that rush over me and the sensations I take in? Right now my face feels uncomfortably oily and my glasses are smudged and the wicker seat of my chair is pressing awkwardly into the heel of my right foot and the air in the room is a little chilly, but comfortable, because the humidifier is buzzing behind my desk, and the low light beside me gives a warm feel to the smooth green walls and my little mutt is sleeping with her tail tucked to her nose at the base of my chair, her feet twitching a little and her eyebrows too, and a military helicopter is roaring now as it passes over the house, and the hardwood floor stretches away from me in every direction, and it feels good to me, to feel that I am alive, and to be able to type this. I have no regrets. I am thankful most, not to left a cult, but to have discovered a fierce pride in developing my mind’s capabilities.

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