Why so spiritual? (Part 1)
Who are we really? What is all this, this experience of life? What is real? Can we know anything for sure?
I love contemplating these big questions and have built a life around them. Soon, I’m going to be off for more intensive study and practice. Philosophy excites me and makes me feel alive. And sometimes it gets weird and creepy. But I still love it. I’m aware that not everyone spends so much time thinking about these things. But for me, I can’t help it. I can’t stop, nor would I want to.
I first discovered my lust for philosophy when I was procrastinating writing my French literature papers in the university library. As “luck” would have it, I always sat at the end of what happened to be the row of quantum physics books. It seemed as if each day, those textbooks were sticking out a little further from the shelves, almost leaning toward me, whispering to me. One day, I gave in, cracked one open and I was hooked. The more I read, the more I realized how little we understood about the nature of reality. This came as quite a shock. These were physics textbooks for God’s sake. How could things be so flaky? I read about these experiments whose results seems to depend on the observer and our expectations of the outcome. This blew my mind. The physical world of matter, that we think is so solid, up close, is actually incredibly fickle. The closer we look into things, the more we see there’s nothing there, mostly just empty space, and particles that flicker in and out of existence.
While the science was fascinating, the philosophical implications of these discoveries rocked my world. Suddenly, the world out there was not solid and objective and we didn’t understand the fabric that made it up. Suddenly, mind really did seem to determine matter.
Appearance was not necessarily reality. There might not even be such a thing as absolute reality, or absolute truth.
And it wasn’t just what this meant about the “material” world, it was everything, including our thoughts, our sense of self. Just because something looked or felt a certain way, didn’t mean it was really that way. In the same way that a solid table, upon closer examination, is more empty space than “table particles,” the deeper we look into our sense of self, and try to pinpoint what and where it is, the more it dissolves.
I used to get really compulsive about getting to the bottom of all this. As if I could sift through the findings in science, philosophy, and religion to find an answer that would make sense of my experience of reality. As if I could come up with a satisfying answer to what is really going on here.
Of course, there is no satisfying answer. (Surprise, surprise — I didn’t find anything that the great scientists and thinkers and sages over the centuries overlooked.)
And with time, and age — and more humility — I became less obsessed with finding definitive answers. There were no secrets buried in scientific knowledge and spiritual wisdom that would offer a complete explanation for what I experience, what I see and feel, what it’s all made of, how it works, and where it came from. And certainly no reason why this all is.
I’ve gotten to a point where, I don’t think I believe we can have definitive answers for these questions, because we are too deep in it. How can we properly and objectively investigate the nature of mind, through the instrument of the mind? Whether through scientific method or contemplation, the mind is still both our tool of investigation, and its subject.
I still love reviewing these questions and having conversations with people who dare go down the rabbit hole with me. I still enjoy the mystery. I think it has enriched my life and experiences.
But now, the futility of the quest to make sense of it all doesn’t make me as frustrated or as anxious.
I am more relaxed and have found peace in the unknown. I can be in awe of the beauty of this mysterious experience. I can simply enjoy this human ride. (Most of the time.)