In Search of Vitality

Chichen Itza

When today's conversations tread beyond inane talk about television programs, scandalous "tweets" or plans for the weekend, they sometimes turn into heated debates about politics, religion and other "serious" issues. As a rule, some people refuse to even entertain the idea of participating in such debates. In this way, no one gets upset and the pleasant veneer of conversation can remain in place. It is true... Some discussions can become downright polarizing and even alienating. It is quite easy to lose our perspective as we are quickly taken up by our emotions in defending our position; we become so impassioned as if possessed by an alien mind. Discourses become a will to power; they become more focused on asserting an opinion and a stance than on discovery, sharing and open-mindedness. As the ego struggles to assert itself, we end up only listening to our own voices. The conversation becomes a monologue of sorts with all other ideas filtered out. In the end, nothing is truly shared or communicated apart from a bit of myopic egoic masturbation. This effort to assert our position is in a way an existential, primordial cry for affirmation.  Through it, we are looking for a sounding board, a resonant space for the echo of our own voice and presence. It is a resounding scream of "I am here!", an attempt at feeling some sense of vitality or self-affirmation that the outside world could never deliver. This is the ugly confrontation which many try to avoid.

Collectively, we modern human beings have long bid farewell to the inherent vitality of our own lives as we move about in desolate physical and mental environments, surrounded by asphalt and concrete, synthetic lights and materials, a barrage of information, preoccupation with work, fear, propaganda, etc. This vitality has to do with the mystical dimension that we have long abandoned. It has nothing to do with any New Age idea, modern spirituality or religion. In the simplest of terms, it is the experience of the mystery of being alive. It is always there beneath the surface of our conscious awareness and it reaches beyond opposites, beyond ecstasy and pain, beyond joy and suffering to an indescribable sense of wonder and awe. Its center is motionless and spaceless and yet all of motion and space initiate from it. This vitality makes the torrents rage, the rain descend and the flowers bloom. It powers the flight of the winged, burns the nuclear core of stars, causes supernovae to explode with unimaginable energy and determines the rhythm of the human heartbeat. Unfortunately today we no longer sense that inherent vitality in our lives or in others. We have extinguished the candles of our inner temples and, like hungry ghosts, have gone out in search for it in churches and mosques, synagogues and strip malls, in movie theaters and on television, in positions of power and wealth. We have become consumers of ideas, disconnected from the source of the real world. We devour everything in sight with an insatiable hunger equal only to the grotesqueness of our disease. In turn, we have also become food for an unseen paradigm, a shadowy system that perfectly mirrors the loss of our inherent vitality. With this loss, nothing is left that is sacred. Everything is fragmented, counted, measured and commoditized. To escape the toxic effects of our devotion to this modern religion, we seek to take long walks in parks, specific places where nature is cordoned off and visited on occasion. We go on yoga retreats to clear our minds and escape the mental clutter of daily life. In seeking spiritual guidance and salvation, we enter sacred places that are quite foreign and distant from the center of our homes and everyday lives and beg for some sense of vitality in exchange for alms and prayers. Many of our youth even try to withdraw in a musical space between the earbuds of their headphones. An innumerable number of us, in desperation to escape this colossal illness and forget the fragmentation that rules our lives, resorts to medication, alcohol or hard drugs. We simply seek to numb the pain from the boredom and absence of vitality in our lives.

Entertainment has by far become the most popular and socially-sanctioned escape method to mimic some sense of vitality, and television has emerged as the perfect tool for distraction. As I mentioned in the article End of Story, television is not the cause of our problems; rather, it is a symptom, a perfect mirror of our illness. It delivers the drama that can give us that sense of aliveness, albeit fleeting and illusory. Television has helped to frame this drama in two dimensions and objectify it on a screen of synthetic light. It is the best show on earth. And while we intellectually understand that the images we see of tsunamis, foreclosures, starving children, and earthquake victims are taking place in the real world, somehow we do not really feel a connection to the suffering people and events animating the screen. How could we when we currently are unable to feel any authentic, inherent vitality in our own lives? As we watched the awesome images through our television sets of Japan's recent earthquake and tsunami disaster, for example, we were intellectually horrified and reasonably devastated. As we sipped our venti latte at the local coffee house, we lifted up our gaze to grab a glimpse of the catastrophe beaming from a television in some corner. While waiting for our turkey sandwich, we stood in the lunch cafeteria at work glued to the screen with amazement. We sat in front of our computers, replayed video clips of the disaster and shook our heads in disbelief. We have come to secretly relish nail-biting news such that of the Japanese disaster or the falling stock market or political wrangling in Congress or shootings at schools or wars and other altercations. Comfortably, from behind the glass of our computer screen or mobile device, we can watch with excitement the fishbowl that is the world. While in this way we may be able to derive some sense of vitality in our lives, such voyeurism is completely disconnected from the reality of the situation. Moreover, we have been exposed to so many simulated images over the years that our reactions have become scripted in many ways. Our feelings are no longer our own. They have been refurbished, re-manufactured and reformatted. We have become programmed through repetition to react to the daily movements and images of the world in a specific way. Our lives are now written, produced and directed like some formula-based, innocuous sitcom complete with a laugh track and certain cues for prepackaged emotional responses. The excitement of entertainment lifts us out of our dull, programmed daily routine if only for a moment in an attempt to touch something real through a virtual medium. In short, the need to feel a sense of vitality and to escape the boredom of our synthetic, automated lives numbs us to the feeling of loss resulting from any personal tragedy or suffering happening in the now conceptualized world.

I believe that, in sacred scriptures, vitality is represented as the Holy Ghost, the Tongue of Fire or even the halo. In our religious traditions, it is reserved only for saints, saviors and prophets. It is a power that cannot be gained from or explained by the outside world; therefore it is said that its root is of a "higher power" or a divine being. It was not always so. Ancient traditions, predating many of our mainstream religions, taught that this sacred vitality is in every creature. Some even taught that it lives in inanimate "objects." Somewhere along the way we began to lose touch with the mystical dimension and with the playful nature of the Universe. Our sense of the inherent vitality in our own lives was also lost, and as a result, it became mythologized and "religionized." There is a direct link between the loss of the mystical dimension and the rise of organized religions. We began to compartmentalize, institutionalize and commoditize everything. We stripped ourselves of the mystical dimension and put it on a pedestal, in high unreachable places. We attributed it to this or that god, to this savior or that prophet. We began to argue amongst ourselves and placed obstacles to reach it. The road to salvation became paved with prayers, alms, and self-denial, but it also became lined with fear, hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

While my intent is not to romanticize the ways of ancient societies or to suggest a return to such times, their lives were certainly imbued with the mystery and vitality of life. They lived daily with the mystical dimension, with awe and a sense of the sacred "other" all around them. We on the other hand have been shut out of that dimension. Our "formal" education and socialization has mechanized our brains with vast amounts of information, taboos, fears, desires and numbing entertainment. Even art, which was once the pinnacle of the western mind, has been commoditized. Now, our spirits are like naked children who have been stripped of their clothing, their shelter and their food. We stand in a desolate landscape but our eyes have over time adjusted to the grayness all around us. We have become deaf to the shrieks and cries of our own spirits. This waste land has become comfortably numb for us.

There is, however, reason to be of good cheer. Beneath the waste land, still, is a wonderland. It awaits those who, in a moment or a blink of an eye, can shift their perspective to see it in its full glory. In fact, our inherent vitality lies dormant beneath the psychological rubble of this vast waste land. When we are not in touch with this vitality, we search for answers in the world, in others, in science or scriptures. All these things become meaningless when we enter the mystical dimension, which is only a hair's breadth away from where we stand at this very moment. This dimension cannot be reduced to thoughts or words or science or religion or even art; but when we enter into it, there is boundless energy and vigor and total accord with our environment. This vitality is in essence a resonance or a dance. It is a musical thing. If we can get swinging with it, then the search for meaning, purpose, pleasure, power or even god becomes obsolete. The dancer and the dance are recognized as one. The story of the entire universe, we discover, is our story. It all unfolds within us.

© 2011 The Forbidden Heights

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