July 12, 2017
More often than you might think, someone at a party, say, finds it useful to remind me that we may be merely avatars in some alien civilization’s video game. Of course I always say, “of course,” what with the scope of human ignorance being so infinite and all. And if I’m not in a hurry, I might even succumb to a parlor game of what-ifs, which runs sometimes on and on, with other people joining in and imaginations a-go-go. What if we’re part of someone’s dream? What if only I exist? We could be holograms, or twelve-dimensional, or the bedraggled children of God.
I’m patient amid the speculations. After all, it’s all true, for all I know or need to guess. And/or it’s all nonsense. Every sci-fi scenario is just another metaphor for the ineffable. “Truth” itself, like “time” and “I,” is most useful when viewed metaphorically. I myself like to say that life’s ultimate answer is “both,” but even that word’s just another little church-of-one mantra that doesn’t even say what I mean, let alone capture a truth. The idea that my rational mind might manage even the slightest brush-up with (what I may as well call) “reality” —this is my silliest lifelong foible. There’s a reason we need words like “ineffable,” isn’t there? Undefinable, indescribable, beyond words. The notion sits in our vocabulary, underused but plain enough: our mental search for truth is a snipe hunt.
As the Buddhists probably say: we can’t know; we can only be. I think this old truth must have scared me once, and for all I know someday it will scare me again. But these days the never-knowing seems the opposite of scary. I find in it, instead, the sweetest surrender, the soothing/soothful opposite of judgment, attachment, ambition, desire.
For a long time I lived by a mythology of truth and choice. I believed myself a (clumsy) demi-god who knew a few things already and would one day know more, who through ratiocination could lead a choiceful life. But I don’t know anything about any of that anymore—and, for now at least, I’m retired from the business of trying to know. What remains is only the usual hapless tatter, the ragged axiom still clinging to the rod after the drape’s torn down: here and now, I know nothing. Here and now, I choose nothing, I control nothing. I can call myself a sovereign all I want, but even my skin won’t obey me. Not only that, but here’s the thing: it could well be that only through my (abashed but pure) surrender to this self-evidency will I ever, at long last, become whoever it is that (it will surely turn out to be) I’ve been all along.