"Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced." Keats

I was in the kitchen last night when I was suddenly so overcome by the fear of death that I couldn't have felt much worse had I been on the threshold of being violently murdered. I forgot that I ever felt any differently, and I wondered why I hadn't long since killed myself simply to escape my terror of dying. I recalled that before Hemingway blew his head off with a shotgun, he had tried to throw himself into an airplane propeller, and I imagined that I was experiencing a taste of that same desperation. 

A few minutes later, I put on a Czechoslovakian film called The Cremator, which turned out to be the darkest, scariest movie I had ever seen, and the fact that it was also brilliantly funny only made the horror worse. Indeed, I had to steel myself to remain in my chair. Then, I remembered that I had eaten some marijuana an hour before the fear started, and I realized that my emotion had been drug-inspired and wasn't really the totality of my life. Marijuana exacts a price for its insights, and if I use it when I'm already upset, as I did last night, the result can be such that I wouldn't hesitate to call it insanity. I survive such times simply by riding them out. I was afterwards exhausted but couldn't sleep so I took an Ambien. It is now the next afternoon, and I've been weak, dizzy, and anxious, all day. I just took a large dose of marijuana because I want to see where it will take me when I am already in such a state. 

You probably read that last sentence in horror and with the question Why?! in your mind. My answer is that I am on a quest in the realm of ultimate reality, and marijuana untethers my consciousness so that I can free associate a hundred times more effectively than usual, and the result of this free association is oftentimes new insights. As you might imagine, given that I'm an atheist, I hesitate to use the word quest because many are sure to assume that such adventured are spiritually inspired and, if successful, will lead to God. My conclusion has been just the opposite. 

Why is this, do you think?

People usually undertake spiritual quests with a pretty good idea of what they're going to experience, and this determines what they do experience. I came at my quest from the opposite direction, that is I started with faith and lost it. That's the thing about spiritual quests, once you give up your preconceptions regarding the nature of ultimate reality, you don't know where you're going to exit the rabbit hole. I know where I exited, and it is here that I will make my stand unless something unexpected happens. What I mean by this is that I try to be open to what many of you call spiritual realities, but the only reason I see to think they exist is that so many people believe in them. 


Why doesn't the firm belief of millions of people over thousands of years lead you too to believe? 

I suspect that people believe for two reasons, neither of which has anything to do with external reality. The first is that they are raised to believe as they do, and the second is that they are probably, to some extent, evolutionarily programmed to believe in a spiritual realm.

But, if your conclusion is that the spiritual realm is imaginary, why are you still on a quest? 

The fact that spirits don't exist doesn't make reality less profound or the search for the best ways to live and think less meaningful. In fact, I think the opposite could be true, and here is why. For those who believe in a wise, powerful, and benevolent spiritual realm, the goal is to live in consistency with the desires of that realm just as a child lives in consistency with the desires of its parents. This usually results in a high degree of conformity among those who put their trust in a particular book or teacher. By contrast, I am alone in the darkness with no one to guide me. I say that I am alone because it truly is my road to travel, and the fact that others have traveled it hasn't proven to be of much benefit to me. I can only have confidence in that which I experience because it is only experience that seems real, although I can never be sure that it is real. I just know that it's the only light that I have to go by. As I live it, atheism is stark and bleak, but it is hardly shallow. However dismal the lessons, the quest itself is its own reward.

19 comments:

The Elephant's Child said...

Oh Snow. I am so sorry for your fear and your pain. Knowing where it came from doesn't relieve it at all. I am also more than glad that you didn't kill yourself last night. I can only talk for me, but my world would be seriously diminished if you were gone. I expect the same is true for many other people here in the blogosphere, not to mention the people you have in your reality.

Snowbrush said...

You know, I was thinking about you when I was writing this, maybe because I know something of the trials of your own life. You're a survivor, and I respect that. You've suffered more than most of us, yet you carry on your life in a loving manner, and that makes you a person to be emulated.

"I am also more than glad that you didn't kill yourself last night."

I was never in the least danger of that. I was simply mystified regarding how I had survived such intense fear for my entire life, not realizing that I was suffering under the fleeting delusion that my entire life was like that. I probably fell prey to this delusion because I do indeed think about death a lot, and I also dread death a lot. However, the intensity of this experience was far beyond anything that I usually feel. I do hope that I have reassured you. I have a great desire to live and no thought of ending my life prematurely unless something horrible should come along and make it untenable. For example, if I were in intractable pain, or if I were diagnosed with Alzheimer's, or if Peggy died, or if I went blind; I would at least consider suicide, but nothing like that is going on at the moment. I'm quixotic enough to take satisfaction in my quest. Bleak though it be, it also contains something of grandeur, namely an ongoing awareness of the great void from which we all came and into which we will all go. If I were to call anything God, it would be that void, not because it is good but because it is the one thing that is surely infinite.

lotta joy said...

"As I live it, atheism is stark and bleak", then you're living it wrong, Snow. Athiesm set me more free than the bondage of living by set instructions, expectations, and a belief that all my questions would be answered after I was dead - when said answers would be useless.

While sitting beside Joe today, listening to the pastor's pointless sermon, he delved into the "why are some people's prayers answered while other are not". Joe was listening with rapt attention, hoping for once his unresolved issues would finally be answered. I could have told him what the minister would say next: "I don't know the answer, but I know the man who does, and all things will be shown to me after I die."

Yup. Right on cue.

But athiests, unless they're out on a grudge mission to prove all religions as being idiotic, already have all the answers they need.

Shit happens. Pain hurts. People die, and those left behind suffer.

And some win the lottery.

No different than people who agonize, groan, and pray until their hearts explode from their anguish and passion.

Once I left all religion behind, the relief I felt was indescribable.

I was able to face many of my fears head-on, without pointlessly praying and hoping for a reprieve.

I now know that the only thing I have to fear is the actual dying process itself. (and fear it I do) But this is a process we share with all mankind. No need to rush it. LOL

Truly, Snow, we left a lot of burdens behind when we ceased to feel the need for explanations, making excuses for a supreme being dropping the proverbial ball, and pretending to trust while hiding our fears.

My love goes out to you.

Strayer said...

The only recent time I used pot was when someone invited me to the coast for one night in a beach hotel. She's a pothead and a cat person, had been given a week there, by her father. Invited me to share the room one night, knowing I needed badly to get away. I weakened when she offered a joint took a couple puffs. See I wanted to locate Brook Wilberger, thought maybe somehow I could "see" where she was at, through the free associations pot allows, find her, had been devastated when she was kidnapped only a mile or so from where I lived and by her parents faces on the news. Didn't work.

Snowbrush said...

"'As I live it, atheism is stark and bleak", then you're living it wrong, Snow."

I have not observed that happiness has anything to do with whether a person is an atheist or a believer (unless he or she is in an oppressive religion). I think it's more dependent upon hormones and genetics. Yet, it certainly "feels" like there's a connection.

"Athiesm set me more free than the bondage of living by set instructions, expectations, and a belief that all my questions would be answered after I was dead"

Attempting to live with intellectual incongruity, as it were. There's another term for this, but I'm too sleepy to think of it at the moment.

"Truly, Snow, we left a lot of burdens behind when we ceased to feel the need for explanations, making excuses for a supreme being dropping the proverbial ball, and pretending to trust while hiding our fears."

Yes, it is better in every way to live with what seems to be the truth than to attempt to cram a comforting fantasy down one's throat.

"I weakened when she offered a joint took a couple puffs. See I wanted to locate Brook Wilberger"

I smoked pot in 1988 while I sat next to my mother's open coffin in the living room of her house, hoping that I would have some experience of her. All that came of it was that I heard her gasp for air. (Since most people won't recognize the name, I'll just say that Brook Wilberger was a young Oregon woman who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered.)

Lorraina said...

I don't know whos quote this:
i'd rather live like God exists than to die and find out that he dosen't and then suffer the consequences at that time rather than the other way around - live like he doesn't exist and die to find out he does. You need just a teeny tiny faith, like the size of a grain of rice and you'll be safe and granted admission into heaven
to see all your loved ones and live on happily forever after.

Einstein quote
"I believe in God….just in case!"
that's ok as well.

Charles Gramlich said...

a spiritual search doesn't have to be a search for an actual spirit, but a search for that which gives meaning to our lives. I'm not an atheist but I could imagine that a world in which one tries to understand the evolutionary basis for why we believe and act as we do could be fulfilling.

Sissy said...

"Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced."

What an amazing mouthful!

Snowbrush, why would you fear death? For myself, it will end all this physical and mental pain; the mental somewhat caused by the physical.

One the other hand, how do I know that becoming 'dust', that 'dust', being another form of energy, may not also feel something? In time I shall know.

lotta joy said...

I can't imagine ME using the word "happiness" and I'm aghast that I did. I've never been happy, and with my childhood (as well as yours) if I had been happy at ANY point, it would have been odd to say the least.

Whether with god fighting my battles (in my mind) and losing, or me facing life and accepting everything on my own, I'm a morose individual either way.

Becoming athiestic just allowed me a clearer understanding that some people are the bug, some are the windshield, and it rarely equals out. That's life.

Marion said...

"Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me..." Psalm 23, my cure for horror, depression and fear. xoxo

Myrna R. said...

Glad you didn't kill yourself. And I sincerely hope you find truth in your quest. We all follow different paths.

Snowbrush said...

"Einstein quote
"I believe in God….just in case!"

I'm not a gambling man, but betting that Einstein never said that wouldn't be gamble.

"i'd rather live like God exists than to die and find out that he dosen't and then suffer the consequences"

This is simply a restatement of Pascal's Wager, which has many problems. For instance: how would you know which God to choose; how could you be sure what kind of worship to offer; why should you think there would be "consequences" if you don't worship; why do you think God would accept such a purely self-serving approach to worship; and what makes you so sure that God prefers believers over non-believers? Another objection is that it would require at least some level of skepticism regarding God's existence, and this would leave atheists out of the equation.

"a spiritual search doesn't have to be a search for an actual spirit"

Atheists generally avoid the word spirit because it tends to confuse rather than clarify.

"Snowbrush, why would you fear death?"

I've been missing you, Sissy. As for your question, people have been saying since the time of the ancient Greeks, at least, that for one to fear the time after death is illogical because the person won't exist--in other words, death only presents a problem for those who aren't dead. Yet, I think that most people are sufficiently attached to the idea that they exist that they dread losing their existence. Of course, when people are suffering and hopeless, they often come to embrace death because it represents escape, and that becomes more important than existence.

"Becoming athiestic just allowed me a clearer understanding that some people are the bug, some are the windshield, and it rarely equals out. That's life."

An argument that is sometimes offered in favor of belief is that, without God, there can be no justice. One problem with the argument is that there is no reason to assume that justice exists. Another is that the only justice possible would the elimination of injustice before it occurs because anything else isn't justice but recompense after the fact. It's what human judges do when they award "damages." In their case, they can do nothing better, but God certainly could.

"My love goes out to you."

Thank you.

Hi, Marion. Hi, Myrna. I don't have any response to your comments at the moment, but it's good to see you.

Deb said...

Wow. I lived that a hundred times, Snow and let me tell you, even if for 5 minutes, it feels like hours upon hours. I remember when I was younger, I would smoke as well. I wanted to escape reality for a short time, but what happened was, it started to give me anxiety - feelings of paranoia and the sense of 'doom'. And at my lowest point, a sorry ass suicide attempt. The darkness doesn't stay forever, Snow. There is a light at the end of the tunnel (hehe) --- seriously, it does get better. You're a "thinker" -- we as writers put in a lot of time within our minds, within our hearts and going on these quests to fulfill what we truly need. I wish there was something I can say or do to make you feel better, or inspired in some way, but just know that you're not alone with this overwhelming sense of fear. This morning I had an overwhelming sense of sadness, and fear. I guess due to the nature of the day being that it's 9/11 and my dad's passing, I do feel very fearful and sad. I guess it brings up questions about our own mortality and well, questions...lots of questions.

Hang in there. Sending positive thoughts your way.....

Snowbrush said...

Deb, your father died on this date? I'm so sorry. I lost my mother in '88 and my father in '94, and my feelings about those losses were so different from one another that I wouldn't dare to suggest that I know what it was like for you.

I knew that yesterday was the tenth of the month, but I forgot all about today being the eleventh because I'm just not a date oriented person. I couldn't even tell you the day of the month that my parents died, although I was with each of them.

"I wish there was something I can say or do to make you feel better"

I never expect such consolation from anyone. I know I'm alone; I accept my ultimate aloneness; and I accept the utter inability of other people to offer insights that would make my path easier. I consider this attitude to indicate growth because it eradicates neediness and because it forces me to look to the only place I have ever found consolation, and that is within myself. Other people can still be there for me by offering their love, as you have done, but even if they think they have answers, those answers never seem to work for me. I'm sure that one reason I can share as deeply as I do on this blog is that I'm not looking for help. If I were, it would be too scary to risk not getting it.

Deb said...

I understand. I'm not "pitying" you by no means. I know you're a very strong person (from what I can tell) and I can relate to this very much.

Sorry, my comment was fuzzy - my dad passed on July 21rst. Weird, because all of our relatives pass on the 21rst. Not sure what that means......... ~spooky~ ;)

I just came by, read this post, and felt more connected in some way. So you've actually helped me in feeling less alone. So thank you for sharing this.

Snowbrush said...

"Weird, because all of our relatives pass on the 21rst. Not sure what that means......... ~spooky~ ;) "

I would suggest that it just looks like a pattern. The actuality is that if you had five relatives who died on any given set of dates, the odds would be the same. For instance, the odds of them all dying on the 21st is no greater than the odds of them dying on, respectively, the 12th, the 28th, the 3rd, the 8th, and the 16th. But having had five relatives (or whatever the number) die on the 21st, the odds of the next one dying on the 21st also is the same as of her or him dying on any other day of the month. Our brains are wired to recognize patterns, and the downside of this is that we sometimes imagine a pattern when there is none.

TICKLEBEAR said...

It may appear bleak, but my journey, despite its many pitfalls, has allowed me to find moments of elation, moments where I proved myself better than what I was given in this life, the ability to show kindness to the vulnerable, compassion to the dying, and indulgence toward the rest of mankind. I often feel like an outsider in this world, observing people, often accepting them for what they are, no more, no less, as who am I to have expectations?!? I trudge along, dealing with my own trials and tribulations, doing my best, and not always succeeding... I feel right now a disconnect as I've stepped away from my purpose, due to circumstances, and I feel at a loss. Pondering upon my future leaves me a little breathless as I don't know [right now] how to fix this. I may yet find inspiration to restore order in my life, hopefully. But I do this on my own,
not guided by beliefs or other what-nots. My atheism is not so bleak, stark, yes, but not so bleak. I don't live with rosey colored glasses obscuring my view of this world, I see it clearly, too clearly sometimes, even if I don't smoke weed...
I like my capacity of feeling, even when it gets too much. It was quite overwhelming when I was younger, but I've learned to deal with this since... There is still some anger in me, but it is something I can use positively, I think...
:)~
HUGZ

Snowbrush said...

"I like my capacity of feeling, even when it gets too much. It was quite overwhelming when I was younger"

Young or old, I have found it barely tolerable. For instance, when I was young, I didn't know how to manage the intensity of my feelings (many of them about things that other people seemed oblivious to, such as the inherent contradictions in the Biblical accounts of God), yet I still retained a basic idealism that assured me that I would someday, somehow, find MY people, and that we would build something good together. Now that I'm in my 60s, I have embraced the thought that our species is so greedy, warlike, and irresponsible that the best thing for the rest of life on earth would be for us to all die. As for finding my people, I've come to the conclusion that my idealism was delusory, that in 20 or so years I'll be dead, and that my life won't have made the world a better place. I fully expect the human race to continue misusing technology until the suffering that awaits the earth's creatures is worse than anything that came before. You might say that my rewards in living are all on the micro level, the macro being beyond repair.

TICKLEBEAR said...

While I agree with your idea of the demise of Mankind unless a collective awareness and desire to REALLY change our ways were to happen [how likely is that??? It goes against greed and selfishness], I still believe I've made a difference, not in this worlds, but in a few lives, for a few fleeting moments here and there, as others have affected me as well. I never found people exactly like me, but sometimes, my direct opposite were of some comfort as it made for an interesting rapport when respect prevailed. And with others, I found just enough similarity to think I was not such an oddity in this world, perhaps...

I pity those that are to follow in our footsteps. What a mess...
Who will fight to make things right? I see these spoiled brats taking everything as their due. They're in for a rude awakening...