Last night my Wednesday night group was pondering over our various responses to being out in the Oregon wilderness. We all agreed about some feelings of the grandeur of nature and the smallness of our personal existence within it, of its relative permanence and our mortality. We all reveled in our various remembrances of these feelings and thoughts but after a while I began going into the abstractions of the whole experience. Why do we humans have these thoughts and feelings, do all people have them, and do animals such as squirrels have them?
Is the problem with the Greek Gods being so very cranky based on the knowledge of their own mortality, while the masses of Catholics are so calm and resigned to their fate based on their acceptance of the concept of their eternal life, after death, because they are going to be in the eternal presence of God? They are very calm after Mass, as I have observed several times when picking up friends after their service. They are calmer and more accepting of their place in the universe than I was after sitting in a wilderness quietly thinking and being in nature for hours. Perhaps it is better for one’s personal sojourn on this universe to be a willing participant, I mean willing dupe, to the obvious human constructions of the various religions.
Mother Teresa lost her faith in God’s being, at least her faith in God’s personal intimacy with her, and yet she persevered in her lies to the people to whom she was ministering. She took on the role of God herself, in that she was creating a personal access to the eternal presence of godliness in her followers. To her, her creation was accepted as a personal fabrication, and therefore a lie to those people, but to those who were in her presence it appeared that she had a personal relationship with the eternal verities.
It is very similar to the old sage Maridjan the volcano sitter in Java, whom I reported on as being a crazy old fool. He was killed by his volcano a couple of months later. Many people believed in him, and it calmed them to believe in Maridjan; mostly they were poor farmers living on the flanks of the active volcano. They were calmed and that calmness permitted them to carry on with their daily lives in a productive way. They had good farms, so long as the volcano didn’t erupt, and lousy, probably desperately poor lives if they abandoned their farms. By following their self-assuming GOD inspired sage they were able to be better off – so long as the volcano didn’t erupt. Maridjan’s followers were similar to Mother Teresa’s followers, and perhaps it is the same with all followers of an accepted religious “philosophy”.
The atheists and scientific naturalists may be more correct technically in their response to the universe, but they pay a heavy price in not feeling emotionally attuned with the universe. They are separate from the universe; they are to their own minds universes unto themselves, and thus they are responsible for the suffering they experience as well as the good things. Being responsible beings they are also guilty for the suffering in the world.
When we go out into the wilderness occasionally emotions well up of our personal relationship to the universe, but as we become involved with our routines, when we are there all the time, these feelings go away. The wilderness experience is an occasional personal thing, and perhaps what we are feeling is as much our encounter with an empty lonesomeness from other people as it is an encounter with the vastness of the out there. Probably it’s a little of both.
When we are totally alone we realize that we are responsible for our actions, it is us and what we bring to the moment, and the stuff outside of us and what it brings to the moment. We are only part of it physically, but it is unconscious and our consciousness of it is the only consciousness it has – at least from this point in time and space.
Another aspect of the wilderness experience is the focusing of attention upon some specific thing, a thing we don’t see in our daily lives, and then while still attending to that thing let our awareness expand out from there to the surrounding things for a few seconds. And then back to the original thing. Then choose a close-by thing and do the same routine a couple of times and then a third thing and do that a couple of times. Then shift from each of these things to one of the others for a few seconds at a time. All of this can be done in a minute while sitting at your monitor. There is some of the same feeling while doing this little experimental exercise that one gets when in the wilderness. Perhaps it is the newness of being out in the open wilds, with its shifting of unique moments of attention that brings out the feeling of awe in us.