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Erik, this piece is really moving. Bravo...

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Thank you Bryan, really appreciate that.

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Nov 3, 2021Liked by Erik Hoel

Beautiful, tear-jerking post.

> The opposite of Maya is Brahman, or absolute reality. It’s not on any map, but, as Melville said, “true places never are.” For you can indeed find Brahman, or, far more likely, it finds you. Some sterile space with florescent lighting and coffee in little cardboard cups from a break room with vending machines. That’s where Life actually happens, because that’s where Death actually happens.

This section made me think of Disney World as Maya to the extreme, where an experience is even more fabricated than normal life, to the extent that "no one has ever died in Disney World". The staff uses secret tunnels to move bodies beyond the property before declaring them dead.

I've never really thought of life happening at places like Disney, where so many corporate and individual resources are needed to forget our cares for 2-3 days. The dialogue on Maya and Brahman helps give context, that life can only exist where death also exists.

Not to get hippie dippie, but does that make being in a forest more real than a theme park, where death and life are rapidly cycling all at once? Or even my bedroom with the dust as the only remaining representative of who knows what.

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Oh that's a fascinating thought Gracie - and I had no idea about the tunnels. I've actually never been to Disneyworld, but a friend recently sent me photos of the Star Wars bar (the famous one where Luke Skywalker gets in the fight) that they have there. I was both attracted to it, because it looked really cool, but also slightly repulsed, because it was such a perfect fantasy.

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Nov 3, 2021Liked by Erik Hoel

Hahah, I also have never been and that sums up the tension I feel about it.

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20 hrs agoLiked by Erik Hoel

I love roller coasters. I like speed and height, and roller coasters give you both, at a much lower price tag than skiing.

However I distinctively dislike Disney World, where coworkers and friends would take me. The lines are long and the joy it tries to instill in you does not feel authentic. The sensations did not come from engineering feats of well designed mechanics, or well considered heights and speed. But an aesthetic, a social contract that everybody, including the shittily paid staff, have to act like they are having a good time.

It's rhe height of artificially created and maintained Maya.

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I helped deliver my three children at home. I'll confirm that it's a dose of reality hard to find anywhere else.

But there's another place I've encountered that degree of Brahman, a place that wasn't horrible.

Killing a large animal up close and eating it.

Pigs, sheep- animals that are big enough to have faces and personalities (somehow fish and chicken don't yield the same experience). Looking at a big animal with a gun or a knife in your hands, getting ready to actually end it's life? My heart is pounding even writing it down. Every time, I've felt an urgent need for a ritual. It always makes me think of reading about Native Americans "giving thinks for the life of the animal", and how nothing could have been more obviously necessary. You HAD to do something overt to acknowledge how heavy an action you were about to take.

Deeply, thoroughly real.

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That's fascinating Michael. I'm reminded of the studies showing that post-combat rituals were better at preventing PTSD than drugs in some cases.

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Nov 4, 2021Liked by Erik Hoel

Good piece. To me, at the moment, it seems that the state in which people don't have adequate coverage by the veil of Maya, and thus keep seeing too many glimpses of Brahman too often, is the state that humans call depression. I don't think I'm entirely wrong about this (regarding *the* truth versus *a piece of* truth), because it was percolating in my mind as I was finishing reading the piece and then I got to the line that says "Rather, the permanency of Maya may be a necessity for getting up in the morning" and I was like, yup, there you go, the bell just rang. Those of us who have known what it is like to have getting up in the morning be existential torture have been there. When I was a teenager I used to fantasize about the bliss of sitting in a closet or ditch all day instead of going to school or work. I mean literally, not figuratively. I *longed* to go sit in a closet and not feel and not interact and not be on duty. So the perspective of the piece, along the lines that "we 'all' live in Maya most of the time", is not a universal human experience, as the piece seems to imply or assume; rather, it is merely the usual human experience of many or most humans (but not all). I know that I don't reside permanently in Brahman (like the 'holy men' that Erik finds suspicious or self-deluding), but I do think that I certainly deal with seeing glimpses of Brahman frequently or being often vaguely aware of their existence lurking outside the foreground of present thought trains, and always have. I don't like the label of 'depressive realism', because I believe that the canonical understanding of what depressive realism truly is, or isn't, is flawed, as it only covers the most common *type* of depressive realism, not all types. I have come to suspect that I have always had a type of depressive realism my entire life, but it isn't the delusional kind in which the person hates themselves and can't see *anything* accurately (in terms of worldview). Rather, it is a corollary of an extremely analytic and synthetic cognitive style that generates consciousness in a way that doesn't block out quite as much of the scope of reality, moment to moment, as many minds apparently may do. The foreground of thoughts remains grounded to the background of larger reality by grounding conductors. One last thought: The piece implies or asserts that politics is always Maya. Again, I believe that this is mistaking the *usual* kind of something for the only kind that exists. If a studious reader deeply studies the politics of Russia throughout the past century, most especially of 1915 to 1945, one can realize that politics in some times and places is a realm of much Maya with plenty of Brahman mixed in, not merely a playground of pure Maya. Relatedly, many people don't adequately understand the full scope of what politics is, which informs most statements about politics being [purely/always/solely] fake, unimportant, not reality, and so on. Politics is everything that humans do to influence or control one another short of warfare (civil war and foreign war). It can be quite real, Brahman-real, in some times and places, despite that American politics within living memory has often/usually been pure Maya.

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An interesting perspective, thanks. It makes sense to think about depression within the framework of Brahman, as depression generally has a "big picture" aspect to it. Not universally, but more often than not. And I agree, politics is not *always* Maya, and can be used with different scopes. Here I'm using it (but don't define it) to mean the kind of talking heads Twitter-esque drama of the day, as this is 95% of what constitutes politics in the USA.

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Nov 16, 2021Liked by Erik Hoel

"the state in which people don't have adequate coverage by the veil of Maya, and thus keep seeing too many glimpses of Brahman too often, is the state that humans call depression."

A few years back, for a specific reason (improperly managed side-effects of medication withdrawal) and time frame (perhaps a month), I went through an extremely intense depression, like nothing I'd ever experienced. Even having had smaller spells of natural depression in the past, it was a perspective-altering experience that left a lasting impression on me. When I read what you wrote above, the bell rang for me, as well. This -- an inability to withdraw from Brahman into the shelter of Maya -- feels so perfectly like what happened to me.

One of the strongest features of that depression, in particular, had been a nearly ceaseless awareness of my own existential dread. I could not escape from it or retreat in any way. It was a psychic pain as real as any physical pain I've ever felt, if not moreso. Despite being a solid atheist and raised irreligious, I spent significant portions of those days curled in the fetal position in the bottom of my bathtub, with the shower running, sobbing and pretending that God was real and was holding me. Even in the moment, for me, it was what Kurt Vonnegut might have called "foma" (something untrue, yet comforting nonetheless), but I was willing to take whatever relief I could get.

Thankfully, I knew that there was a very likely endpoint to my suffering (my body adapting itself to the absence of the medication), and I clung to that thought like a life preserver in the empty ocean. It became almost a mantra, repeating to myself that this state was impermanent, and I just had to get to the other side of it. But I remember thinking, more than once, that if this was what some people's lives were like with no endpoint in sight, I could understand suicide. I was firmly convinced that I would not have been able to endure even one year of that level of almost wholly unremitting anguish, if there were no end in sight. Nighttime, right before bed, was most bearable, but waking up was the worst part of my day, each morning a dreaded fresh hell. I'd feel a crushing weight in my chest the instant I was conscious, almost as though I couldn't breathe, though physically I absolutely could. I would clutch my pillow to myself, waiting for the sensation to relent enough that I could even try to get out of bed. I couldn't -- and can't -- fathom bearing that existence long-term.

Two of the most tangible results of having had this experience are that I changed my position on mental health euthanasia (like they have in the Netherlands) and that I am much more sympathetic to drug addicts' experiences of withdrawal. (Though I had taken my medication exactly as prescribed, my experience was still caused by withdrawal.) I wasn't unsympathetic before, but I simply had no true notion of the possible depths. Anyway, I suppose this is all a rather long-winded way of saying that I agree with your theory. The type of depression I experienced then could be aptly characterized as an overabundance of Brahman and/or an insufficience of Maya.

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I really appreciate this - thank you for sharing it. I think you're absolutely right, and that your experience rings very true of that state. Depression can feel very much like a *recognition* of reality, rather than some sort of change within yourself - in this sense it is very much living in Brahman

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Beautifully written, thank you. Erik's article does come from a very American perspective marked with material abundance. Vets and SUVs are rare in many parts of the world. And part of the reason why we have material abundance here is because of the covention of resorting to politics to resolve conflicts rather than violence, and achieving control through thoughts rather than heiarchy.

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This is wonderful. Reminds me of a scene in one of The Expanse books. A character is facing a terrifying situation, but it unfolds slowly, and after awhile he gets bored. Habituation.

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This shook me to my core. Bravo.

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Also recommended this here, just FYI: https://siddhesh.substack.com/p/recs-june-2022

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Love to see that - and thank you for the kind words

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Nov 3, 2021Liked by Erik Hoel

“The Building” by Philip Larkin is a great poem with many of the same themes. Life is “unreal

A touching dream to which we all are lulled

But wake from separately”

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Your description of sitting with your dying dog made me cry. Last year I fell from the bouldering wall and dislocated my ankle. I remember very clearly thinking, oh, I'm peering through the veil. And in the land of the veil, to have only a dislocated ankle is to be one of the lucky ones.

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Reminds me of when one is ill and thinks... "oh, I will never take health for granted again... I'll cherish every moment that I am free from illness and I'll revel in my well-being!"

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My God, this is probably the most fascinating post I’ve read from you. There is so much to unpack here. Thanks so much for sharing these concepts of Brahman and Maya, they serve as a very useful framework to think about human behavior and the nature of our minds. I like your hypothesis that Maya is a necessary state, but of course Brahman is also, and looking around me it feels like most people are using Maya in order to run from Brahman, and often don’t acknowledge that the latter exists at all, being so mired in their day to day concerns and troubles that they trick themselves into believing that’s all there is, except for occasional trips into actual reality which are quickly forgotten. Most people, I think, don’t acknowledge the existence of Brahman at all, or reverse what is Brahman with what is Maya, thinking that daily existence is the objective reality, with the occasional cracks in that reality being the illusion.

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Agree, working and living in a tech hub this feels especially acute. I cope by dragging people to literally "touch grass" with me, although being outdoorsy seems to be the current status symbol, very few people are actually super interested and want to do it on a regular basis. Most people prefer the comfort of their home and staring into their screens.

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Nov 24, 2021Liked by Erik Hoel

Excellent piece! It was a surprise to like it so much! A short while before, I read another article about Atman and Brahman (sounds like a comedy duo? or Atman and Brahman and their merry men?) that simply mapped out the concepts as if it were a book report, so I was dreading an encore. Instead, you built and arrayed Atman and Brahman on life experience -- and with each experience something different was illuminated -- about life and about Atman and Brahman. You told the truth without making complete sense, which to me is an attribute of great writing (and Miyazaki films) and of life itself. And of course your story-telling was economical and powerful and moving. It let me think about my life in Atman-Brahman terms without some kind of cheap prompt to force things into rigid categories. It was a new experience and I treasure it. Thank you.

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Thanks so much Alex, much appreciate your comment. And I love the way you phrased it about "telling the truth without making complete sense."

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Nov 18, 2021Liked by Erik Hoel

Really enjoyed this piece and helped cement a recent experience helping a family member through an intense surgery. Time slowed down so much during they day of the procedure and in hospital recovery. But as the week continued and recovery sped up I’ve become increasingly restless and detached.

I’ve been confused about the change in myself - shouldn’t I be happy to be out of the hot-seat? But I think it’s this transition between the in-it/back-to-it that’s been so jarring and leaves me feeling so empty now that we’re quickly returning to something like normal.

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Brahman as something addictive, similar to a drug, is an interesting thought. Back when I was an EMT (well, a bike one in college) I realized that you could absolutely get high from emergency situations. That much adrenaline will truly put you into another state of mind - everything is crystalline bright, like you've just done two lines of cocaine. And after you stop, you do miss it, but that fades.

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So we should advise people to be EMT instead of doing drugs, noted. Great idea.

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Hi Erik, interesting article and very moving especially the part of your personal experience of loss. Further it is also insightful to distinguish between real and not-so real problems. But I am not sure you conveyed the true import of brahman and maya in Indian philosophy. Firstly, brahman and maya are not antagonistic states that we arrive at when we encounter experiences of extreme pain and hopelessness as opposed to pleasurable experiences. Secondly, as your quotation from Swami Vivekananda defines, brahman refers to absolute one, underlying reality of the universe and maya is the ignorance or the illusion of the experience of plurality of forms we have in the world which hides the true nature of oneness of the Universe or Brahman (according to Advaita Vedantic tradition). It is sure a reality check but that has nothing to do with Brahman. Similarly maya is not about just having pleasureable experiences and is equally applicable when one experiences worst situations in life. According to advaita vedantic tradition, Maya functions as ignorance or Avidya by individuating and isolating oneself from others and the world. As is stated in Bhagvadgita, one acts in selfless ways (also called nishkamya karma - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nishkam_Karma) when one realizes one is the same as Brahma (aham brahmasmi). This also means that external events of any kind do not have a influence on our mind as the mind becomes equinamous to any external perturbation arising from happy events as well as insufferable personal tragedy or what you refer to as "real issues" and that is one of the greatest teachings of the Great Indian Philosophies.

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Thanks - and indeed, you're correct, this is definitely not be taken as a primer on Hinduism, which is a massive and long tradition with different interpretations which, like all religious traditions, involve multiple meanings, disagreements, and ambiguity. I'd definitely not suggest this is anything more than using metaphors from Hinduism as a framework or springboard to discuss life.

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Nov 5, 2021Liked by Erik Hoel

Damn, you're a great writer who chooses great topics! "Things just got real." Indeed. Such moments feel like you were just half asleep and only now have you truly awoken (not unlike that psychedelic feeling of more-real-than-real). I've had more of these moments than I'd like...

I ever start a blog, I want it to be a lot like yours! Keep up the great work, Erik! 👍

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Lovely to hear - thank you Ryan. I look forward to any future blog you'd do - sounds like it'd be right up my alley

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This piece made me cry a bit.. loved it though

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what about the in-between spaces? Is there anything between Maya and Brahman? Perhaps "Lila" as in "divine play".

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Art, music?

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