Gazing into a crisp, cold, dark pre-dawn sky is a radically different experience from gazing into a crisp, cold, bright mid-day sky. All other aspects of the experience being the same, the daytime sky gives me more of a sense of control of my own destiny. Looking into the dark sky in the hours before dawn somehow accentuates my insignificance; my powerlessness. When I look into the darkness, I am subject to the whims of the universe or, at least, the randomness of time and place. This morning—as I stared into the cold sky and saw, perhaps, hundreds of twinkling stars and planets—I felt tiny; like a lone ant on a massive sphere surrounded by more distance than my miniscule mind can comprehend.
If I were to stand in the same spot and look at the same places in the cold midday sky today, I might still feel small and powerless, but the sensation would be different. The light of the sun would in some way give me a touch of solace; like a comforting embrace from a stranger, in the aftermath of something stunning.
I am trying to describe the differences in sensation between two experiences, one of which I felt moments ago. The phrase, “like night and day,” comes to mind. I might as well attempt to compare identical experiences that differ only in context; one takes place in the air and one in water. The simple act of breathing becomes central in that comparison. It’s a little like that; comparing the sensations I feel in looking up at the sky in darkness and in light.
I attempt to amplify simple existential experiences by focusing my attention on them. By doing that, I free myself from the more mundane pressures of day-to-day life. The stresses of living in the twenty-first century reality of Ukraine invasions and other traumas and dramas pale in comparison to the sensations of feeling tiny in an incomprehensibly large universe. But it’s only a temporary cure; a momentary escape, thanks to the anesthesia of philosophical contemplations. When I emerge from the effects of the anesthetic, the same world and the same stresses confront me. I sometimes wonder, “what’s the point of staring into space?” But I quickly answer my own question: “you simply wanted a temporary reprieve; just a short rest before facing the reality of life.” Yet a temporary respite is never enough. I think one of the reasons people become monks is that monastic life offers lengthy temporal distance from what some Buddhists would classify as “worldly pleasures and whatever else binds us to suffering.”
This morning, as I contemplate matters both universal and hyper-local, I realize that I think religion is an outgrowth of humans’ need for comfort; a need for a reprieve from the pain and suffering and general stresses of everyday life. What I once mocked as a mindless adherence to beliefs I found stunning in their silliness, I now think I understand. Though I maintain my firm disbelief in the principle tenets of most religions, I think I understand why they exist; to provide refuge from the real world. I mentioned anesthetics a moment ago. That brings to mind something Karl Marx wrote, calling religion the “opiate of the masses.” Marx viewed religion in the same way I used to (and, in some ways, I still do), suggesting that religion dulled the pain of the impoverished masses and, at the same time, caused them to disengage from progressive politics. Marx saw that function as a distinct negative. This morning, at least, I think that “opiate” is exactly why people flock to religion; it can anesthetize them from the realities of day-by-day life. I am wandering into strange territory here. I need to extract myself from this conversation with myself and move on to the world outside the confines of my skin.
Unless the weather is too cool and/or the winds are too strong, our neighbors will take us out on Lake Balboa this afternoon, after which we’ll have an early dinner with them. That will take place after we spent more time at the new house this morning, working on what I hope are the final touches before moving in—in stages. Our Realtor will come by on Monday morning to offer suggestions on what we should move out of my current house to best stage it for presentation as I offer the house for sale. We need to move some, but not all, of the furniture out of the house. Even though it is a rather large house, it seems a bit crowded with two of so many things: two loveseats, two sets of dining chairs, two dining tables, two sets of living room chairs, etc.
Even though we are nearing “move-in” for the new house, there are plenty of items I will need to complete after we move: staining new trim on some doors and some baseboards; buying and installing a new faucets on the laundry room sink; “shoring up” the master bath counter top…and the list goes on. But at least we should be able to move in before long. Just getting out from under responsibility for two houses…two sets of insurance, two sets of property assessments, etc…will be an enormous relief.
My car’s gas tank is less than a quarter full; or, if you’re looking at it from a different perspective, the tank is more than three-quarters empty. So, I need to buy gas sometime today. I have to check to see if payment has been made for my homeowner’s insurance for my current house; I switched from annual payment (a hefty $1600+) to monthly payments…I hope. Assuming the switch was successful, I will be pleased; otherwise, I will be late on my annual payment. So many “little” things that I need to do or have done, many of which are governed by the calendar. Right now, I think I would enjoy a ten-day vacation on a tropical island, where my only concerns would be “what shall we eat today” and “where can I be most comfortable as I relax and read a book on the beach?” That, and a full-body stress-unwinding massage would be emphatically welcomed.
It’s nearing 6:00 and I feel the need for another cup of coffee and a little something to eat; peach yoghurt, perhaps. I hope anyone reading this blog post has a happy, stress-free day today.