Saturday, December 12, 2015

"Get real," they said. But why?

As a practicing metaphysician and unrelenting believer in the power and potential of the human mind, perhaps the most frustrating words I hear (and all too often) are... "But, Della... you need to have more realistic expectations!"

Hmmm. I do wonder about the kind of person who lives their life around only what is "realistic." Must be a damn boring existence, if you ask me (and no one did, but I'm going to say it anyway). The whole purpose of any sort of spiritual pursuit (and most creative endeavors) is to get beyond what we think we know, and plunge headlong into the icy depths of the unknown. In my own life, that has come to mean questioning "reality" at every turn, flipping over every rock, and digging under every crumbling tombstone to see what might really be buried there. In almost every case, what I find in the dusty corners of "the real world" are the stagnant and poisonous remnants of belief systems which most people cling to out of some sense of obligation, habit, or simply out of fear.

When I was a little girl growing up in central Florida, my mother and Crazy Granny began to suspect they had a problem child on their hands when I wanted to frolic in the creepy church cemetery instead of sitting in a barren Sunday School room with  my hands properly folded in my lap like all the other "good little girls." Their suspicions deepened when they realized I was far more interested in the "transparent man" who appeared in my bedroom twice in the summer of my 8th year, than I was in the cooking and baking lessons going on in the kitchen. They finally knew they were in real trouble when it came time for me to be baptized, and the question I chose to ask the preacher was, "Why do adults believe in these fairy tales, but don't want us kids to believe in ghosts? Wasn't Jesus fathered by a ghost and born of a virgin? I mean - isn't that one helluva fairy tale?"

My questions were not popular. I was properly baptized, but never officially exorcised, even though I do believe Crazy Granny thought me to be possessed by Satan Himself. She once sat me down and said, "You have the devil in you, little girl."

Having been taught to never lie, I replied, "But you're the one who put him there!"

She looked at me as if I'd gone daft, and asked me to explain. What it really boiled down to was this:  this whole idea of a devil was not something I ever would have come up with on my own, and in fact it was the red-faced preacher shouting hellfire and brimstone about a guy with horns and a tail that first gave me the idea that such a thing might exist. I considered the possibility for all of about 5 minutes, dismissed it with the same nonchalance I had experienced when dismissing God and the Easter bunny and Santa Claus, and went on with my life despite the obvious mental illnesses of the adults all around me.

The reality was that I became possessed by a certain gram of reason at an early age - though that didn't stop me (and still doesn't) from believing in "magic" - which I have always contended is only science not yet understood. And, for that matter... have you ever stopped to consider that otherwise reasonable people stumble off to church every Sunday morning, singing hymns to non-existent deities, but in the same breath they will condemn anyone who says vampires or werewolves or fairies or mermaids might possibly be real in some isolated corner of this vast and mysterious universe. Really - what's the difference? If you're going to believe in God, who is even less plausible than Lestat or Ariel, why ridicule your children for believing in other improbable realities?

Think about it... what is really the difference? If the question strikes you as absurd and you find yourself sputtering like a faulty carburetor, it's most likely because you are already deeply invested in the belief system that only your hokey belief system is plausible. People I know who believe in God always say... "I just know." Well, what about the goth kid standing in the rain who says, "I just know," when referring to her belief in vampires or ghosts or things that go bump in the night? Why is a belief in God any more sound than a belief in mermaids? No right or wrong answer, really. Just something to think about when you feel yourself rankle at the question itself.

At any rate, as I've gotten older and found my voice and lost my fear of looking like a complete fool (what others think of me is none of my business), I've been testing the foundation of this "reality" humans cling to so fiercely, and I'm finding that it's pretty flimsy and tends to fall apart when the least bit of pressure is applied to exactly the right places. And admittedly I enjoy applying that pressure from time to time, even if only in posts on Facebook or other online forums that turn out to be controversial. It may not be rational, but I somehow expect my fellow  human beings to wake up and smell their false beliefs at some point.

And there are those words again. "But Della, you need to have more realistic expectations."

And yet, I somehow doubt that those with "realistic expectations" ever get their dreams off the ground. At the time when the Wright brothers had the idea of flying, that was hardly a realistic expectation. When NASA made the commitment to putting men on the moon, that was not only an unrealistic expectation, it was tantamount to blasphemy to many, and there are still people who believe we never really went to the moon, and it was all just a cheap Hollywood set somewhere in Los Angeles.

So when someone tells me I need to have more realistic expectations, I more or less unfriend that person in my head because in so many ways, that person has become the character of Agent Smith from The Matrix - a living, breathing, speaking program desperate to uphold the most commonly held belief systems and protect the status quo at all costs. For those who have met Agent Smith, you already  know he isn't really a character in a movie. He is your father, your mother, your best friend and the guy standing on the street corner every morning when you walk by on your way to work. He is the one always looking at what you're doing and telling you why you shouldn't be doing it, or why you need to have your thinking adjusted, and - most of all - why you, too, should have more realistic expectations.

I read a quote from Lao Tzu this morning which is really at the base of this commentary. "At the center of your being, you have the answer. You know who you are and you know what you want."

It was such a simple statement, yet also one that echoed something my own mentor has said over the years.  "Who are you, and what do you want?"

I sat in the morning light for over an hour, contemplating the quote while the new puppy rested in my lap - awake and aware, as if she, too, was meditating. I can say with complete honesty that I do know who I am. And I do know what I want. The problem - if it is one - is that what I want is often considered "unrealistic" by every other living soul on Planet Earth, and so I have stopped expressing it out loud except in the darkest hours of night, when it is 3:38 a.m. and the good girls and boys lie sleeping in the sanctuary of their warm and cozy beds, and time is going by. Tick tock. Tick tock.

"The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older. Shorter of breath and one day closer to death."  Pink Floyd sings in my head, reminding me of those unrealistic dreams of mine.  But here's the thing - the nature of dreams is that they are seldom if ever realistic. As children, perhaps we longed to fly or dreamt of finding ourselves on board the Enterprise -  no, not the aircraft carrier, the real one, the one up there in orbit. As teenagers, perhaps we imagined going to the prom with the most handsome boy in school (even though we hated boys and insipid parties).  As young adults, we dreamed of what our lives might be - James Bond in a high speed chase every 15 minutes, or becoming a famous actress who would be the first woman to play the role of Bond. In our 20s and 30s we began to lose sight of our dreams - we began to trade those "unrealistic expectations" for more practical applications, and we began to settle into a living death which we committed ourselves to with a genuine sense of duty, honor and obligation. But perhaps we began to secretly resent some of those choices as time kept ticking by and the words of Pink Floyd started to sink deeper and deeper into that part of us which was moving further and further from our reach.

If we asked the mirror, "Who are you and what do you want?" perhaps we even learned to tell ourselves the convenient lies most normal people tell themselves. I want to have a normal life. I want to raise a family and be a good mother and a good secretary at the office and just be happy. That's what most people tell themselves, if they dare to ask the mirror-mirror-on-the-wall at all. And that's okay - if it's real. If it's really what we want, then it is something to be embraced and nurtured and adored for the time it will last.  I want to be clear that I'm not advocating turning one's back on what one truly wants. Whether family and friends. Or a life of reckless adventuring. Or whatever it is that forms the foundation of one's dreams.

And yet... there are those of us who do not and seemingly cannot embrace that so-called normal life, those "realistic expectations" which comfort so many but are spiritual poison to quite a few.  What does the human organism do when it realizes that what it truly desires is not only beyond its reach but - seemingly - not even within the realm of what the consensual reality would consider possible?  What does one do when one truly desires the "impossible" and refuses to believe it is impossible?

When I was 11 years old and first encountered Star Trek on a blurry black and white television in the year 1966, I fell instantly in love with that world - which was neither real nor possible according to all conventional and rational thinking.  Having already been bitten by that bug of reason mentioned previously, I certainly knew that, yet I could not stop dreaming about a day when it would be real.  I talked of nothing else.  I used my allowance money to buy an old manual typewriter (for those under 40, look it up), and began writing fan fiction until late into the night. My mother thought I had gone insane. Most of my friends agreed.  But there were those shining few who actually saw what I saw, and somewhere along the road between then and now, we almost do live in that Star Trek world with flip phones and computers that fit in the palm of our hand and so many other technological advancements which all would have been considered impossible before a few visionaries set out to make real that which had always been considered unreal.

By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it.
The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
-Nikos Kazantzakis

So what's the point to all of this rambling?  Maybe none at all. Whatever you want to take away from it to fuel your own journey.  Ultimately, even if what we truly desire may seem to others to be impossible, I've found that the disbelief and cynicism of others is no reason to abandon my own crazy desires. I will believe in immortality and fairies and mermaids if it pleases me. And if they do not yet exist, I will desire them enough to create them. I will long for the impossible because I have lived long enough to know that what is impossible now will be commonplace tomorrow.

I will continue to dream. And one of those dreams will be of a world where imagination is alive and well and people may awaken to their own power and their own impossible dreams.

You are the most powerful being in the universe.  Prove it... even if only to yourself.


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