7 months ago

Existence, Source, and Syphilis

It’s cold in Vermont. And we’ve got snow on the ground.

I’m normally cold-averse. But today as I stood in the cold, I caught a glimpse of something…uh…transcendent.

No, transcendent is the wrong word.

Something inclusive.

That inclusive glimpse goes something like this:

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me (it’s so cold), me (cold is uncomfortable), me (I don’t like cold), me (why me?), me, me, me…


me, me, me, me…

The glimpse is not a thought, of course. But the thought follows. And it is a radical shift from the status quo (me).

It is like being slapped sober for a second. “Holy shit! This is happening!”

And the “this” in “this is happening” isn’t some thing that I have suddenly cognized. I can’t tell you what “this” is.

It is perfectly evident. Before cognizing. Before thought. Before awe. Before anything.

“This” is ordinary. Nothing apart from. Not some other experience. Just this, exactly as it is.

If “miracle” is too sensational of a word, then we could just say that “this is happening” is outside of the usual story. And I guess, in that sense, it is transcendent. Not transcending what is. Not transcending the ordinary. But transcending the story.

Hours later I was struck by how odd it is to assume that I am the source of my experience.

I do assume that I am the source of my experience. That is the status quo. That is very normal.

But it is odd.

One of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, wrote in the introduction to one of the editions of Breakfast of Champions about growing up in Indianapolis during the height of the syphilis outbreak.

He wrote about seeing syphilitics crossing the street, walking bolt upright, not under their own command. Under the command of syphilis.

My friend Luis recently mentioned (during an episode of Completely Ordinary) that when he’s painting and more broadly in life, there’s a clear sense that he’s not the source of the painting, the life. He said something, half-jokingly, about “just being the guy that cleans the brushes”.

It is scary to fully acknowledge that I’m not the source of my experience.

Not being the source of painting is scary. After all, if my livelihood seems to depend upon my performance as an artist, I want to have a story that I can do art. I can make it happen. I’m the source.

And being controlled by syphilis is scary. Like being a zombie.

Here’s a funny thing, though: everything that I think of as me is actually an effect as far as there is such a thing as effect. I think of myself as my experience.

If you had no experience, who would you be? Isn’t your definition of yourself dependent upon your experience? Isn’t your experience what you take yourself to be?

There’s experience. And sometimes that experience is fear. And fear has this aspect to it that conjures a sense of being the source of one’s experience.

Then we try to fix it.

We can spend a lifetime trying to fix it.

But it doesn’t need to be fixed.

All that is happening is experience.

And that is already a miracle.

Or if “miracle” is still a bad word…at least it’s mind blowing.



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