A trip to the hospital is more real than your politics
Erik, this piece is really moving. Bravo...
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.
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.
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.
what about the in-between spaces? Is there anything between Maya and Brahman? Perhaps "Lila" as in "divine play".
“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”
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.
This shook me to my core. Bravo.
If you haven't read Nobody Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, you should. It's exactly this idea in story form.
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.
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.
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.
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! 👍
This piece made me cry a bit.. loved it though
Beautiful essay, Erik. A lot of wisdom here.
I’m surprised no one has said it yet—maybe because it’s not conducive to the may point of this wonderfully written post—but, fuck that family.