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Disturbing the Universe

The musings of author Christina Knowles

Month

September 2014

Necessary for Survival by Christina Knowles

The-Walking-Dead-Season-4

In anticipation of the return of The Walking Dead series on AMC this October, I decided to make my “Necessary for Survival” list, not really for a zombie apocalypse, but just to survive the banality of everyday existence. Keeping in mind Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I decided to put basic needs first, and then move on to higher-self needs.

  1. Food and water
  2. Shelter, including an atmosphere free from danger in which to sleep
  3. Clothing
  4. Method of cleanliness/hygiene
  5. A means of protecting oneself from predators
  6. A method with which to obtain goods and services
  7. Peace
  8. Love/Social interaction
  9. Honesty
  10. Goodness
  11. Intellectual stimulation
  12. Meaningful and creative work
  13. Occasional distracting escapes
  14. Purpose (I mean on a deeper level than #12)
  15. Art (Poetry, Books, Music, Visual Arts, Film)
  16. Universal Truth

Numbers 6 and 16 are the only ones that give me any trouble. Number 6 is an unfortunate by-product of needing 1-5, 13, and 15. I am lucky enough to be gainfully employed, and it is meaningful and creative work, but it does not allow much time for numbers 8, 13, or enough of 15. Number 16 is always elusive.

Again I am reminded of The Walking Dead. I believe this show’s popularity owes its success to more than a great concept and good solid writing and characterization. The show represents our unconscious desire to abandon all but the basic necessities of life—that which is “Necessary for Survival.” Paring things down to the bare bones of living, returning to simplicity is the appeal of the show, I believe, for many people. WalkingDead

How many of us long to quit the daily, mind-numbing servitude to someone else’s dreams? To forget the house payments and credit card bills, forget that remodeling project, dump the textbooks in the trash, never ride another subway again? And I’m not even going to mention the freedom to embrace our own vision of justice as if we lived in the Old West, to handle matters as we see fit without the pesky interference of law enforcement or government agencies. We long to rid ourselves of the stress of modern convenience to which we have become enslaved.

But we are just too practical and too scared to do it. So we fantasize about a world that requires us to do it, where we have nothing to lose, no decision over which to agonize. It’s been forced upon us, but we imagine we are up to the challenge, not grown fat and lazy through civilization. We imagine that we can hold on to our humanity without the stress and complexities of civilization, so we root for those characters on The Walking Dead who refuse to completely lose their compassion, their civility, even while being free to be barbaric. It is today’s Walden. After all, we are not some hippie Transcendentalists. We want to be in control of our own lives, free to live how we want, not answer to anyone, get back to the simple things, but we are too ADHD to retire to a cabin in the woods, unless of course, there are zombies beating on the door. Maybe I should have added conflict to my “Necessary for Survival” list.—Christina Knowles

Images from ‪insidetv.ew.com

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Waiting for the Light by Christina Knowles

I’m still on my villanelle obsession. Here’s the third one this week:

Snagged from 1CarGames
Snagged from 1CarGames

“Waiting for the Light”

They say weeping is only for the night

But joy comes in the morning

We’re still waiting for the light

History is hope’s blight

Recorded as a warning

Yet weeping is only for the night

Wiping out evil, He will smite

Rid the world of its scorning

But we’re still waiting for the light

Will we be next on this holy height,

Self-righteousness adorning?

Will our weeping be only for the night?

As dark clouds swarm and reunite

We brace against His storming

Pointlessly waiting for the light

With words we find so trite

But will never end our mourning,

Yet weeping is only for the night

So we go on waiting for the light—Christina Knowles

Questions by Christina Knowles

imageThe soul clings to its impressions
A deeper seed it plants
There are no answers to my questions

Searching for release of its expressions
In adoration the soul will dance
As it clings to its impressions

Powerless and prone to take suggestions
Promised such beauty, it’s entranced
Yet, there are no answers to my questions

Lost in amazement, the processions
Gather at the feet of Romance
The soul clings to its impressions

Diminishing material possessions
Quenching spring, the soul’s desire it grants
Still, there are no answers to my questions

No remedy for our transgressions
No vague emptiness it supplants,
But the soul clings to its impressions,
And there are no answers to my questions.–Christina Knowles

The Problem with Truth by Christina Knowles

Snagged from Google Images
Snagged from Google Images

What is truth? “That which is in accordance with fact or reality” (free dictionary.com). The problem with truth is that, just like reality, we don’t really know that we know it. We experience truth just as we do any other experience in life. Experientially. When we know a thing through our sensory input, and it is not contradicted by another one of our senses, we consider it to be true. However, scientists and doctors know that there are conditions, which can cause the senses to completely misinterpret or mistake a thing we are sure we know from experience. For example, certain nerve conditions cause a person to feel pain at a soft touch, or heat when there is none.

Whenever I broach this subject, I always think of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Aristotelian philosophy on the true nature of a thing is based on a few principles, and this is only a very simplified version of his massive theory: There is the Law of Non-Contradiction, which means that a thing cannot ‘be’ and ‘not be’ at the same time. That makes sense to me. He also posited that there are three types of things: “changeable and perishable,” “changeable and eternal,” and “immutable” (Metaphysics IV, 3-6). But even if we accept that, what about the fact that two people can experience the same event or stimuli and interpret it differently? Obviously, this is due to a number of factors, including but not limited to, the background, previous experiences, mental capacity, personality, beliefs, and possibly even genetics of the people interpreting the information. How then, can anyone know truth if it must be filtered through these varying and uncontrolled factors?

This is the problem with truth. We think we can know truth, but we cannot. Therefore, the meaning of truth becomes that which we think corresponds to reality, as we understand it. —Christina Knowles

Sources

  • Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Trans. Joe Sachs. 2nd ed. Santa Fe, N.M.: Green Lion, 2002.
  • “Truth.” Free Dictionary by Farlex. http://www.freedictionary.com/truth. Accessed: September 12, 2014.

The Sun Still Rises by Christina Knowles

Pichost
Pichost

The sun still rises in the morning; the moon still shines at night.

Somehow we see a future, and imagine it will stay,

But the wind still blows in Eden, despite the wrong and right.

Trying to determine when to run and when to fight,

We muster up the courage, but will the cost outweigh?

The sun still rises in the morning; the moon still shines at night.

Change is in the atmosphere, whether or not it’s right.

The forecast calls for stillness, yet we know they

Believe the wind still blows in Eden, despite the wrong and right.

We gather up our forces; we fight with all our might

Just to see our soldiers crumble, lost to another fray,

       But the sun still rises in the morning; the moon still shines at night.

Rising up once more, we stumble, grasping at the light.

Squinting through the brightness, we take a breath and pray

That the wind still blows in Eden, despite the wrong and right.

Someday we’ll see a future: oh, it’s a perfect sight,

And we will hold it in our hearts and imagine it can stay,

For the sun still rises in the morning; the moon still shines at night.

And the wind still blows in Eden, despite the wrong and right.

–Christina Knowles (9/11/14)

Existdentalism: I Think; Therefore, I Am Confused by Christina Knowles

Rodin, The Thinker Snagged from Google Images
Rodin, The Thinker Snagged from Google Images

In seeking to define my worldview, I have found myself consistently drawn to seemingly oppositional philosophical viewpoints: Existentialism and Transcendentalism. At least they seem juxtaposed in most ways. My definition of Existentialism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning; we create the meaning in our own lives. There is no divine. Transcendentalism, on the other hand, is believing the divine is all around us and in us. We are in nature and nature is in us, and through communion with nature, we connect with the divine soul and are one with everything. This connection is the meaning of life.

Why do I bother defining my worldview? Why do I feel the need to label it? I’ve asked myself this question a thousand times. I believe it is because in order to live consciously, deliberately, and according to a personal value standard, which I desire to do, I need to make choices all the time that fall within certain parameters, and to be vigilant in that, they must be defined. Life is short, and to live it fully aware, one cannot blindly stumble through it.

I read extensively and eclectically, and in my reading, I come across wisdom that speaks to me what I recognize as truth. But is that which seems true, truth? Ah, the age old question asked by every ancient philosopher, and Pilate asked this to Jesus, and at some point, every thinking person must ask themselves, “What is truth?” In forming our worldviews, I find that we latch on to bits of wisdom that seem true because we recognize their wisdom according to our already established values, in which we have internalized throughout our lives from various experiences, both internally and externally. I believe we are even born with some of these values.

I have found many things that seem true in Existentialism. I love Existentialism. People say it is pessimistic and depressing. I don’t see it that way at all. I think it is liberating and comforting. Here are some of my favorite Existential aphorisms:

“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.”—Jack Kerouac

“All that remains is a fate whose outcome alone is fatal. Outside of that single fatality of death, everything, joy or happiness, is liberty. A world remains of which man is the sole master. What bound him was the illusion of another world.” –Albert Camus

“Life begins on the other side of despair.”—Jean-Paul Sarte

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” —Jean-Paul Sarte

“It’s only after you’ve lost everything, that you’re free to do anything.”—Tyler Durden

“Every true faith is infallible. It performs what the believing person hopes to find in it. But it does not offer the least support for the establishing of an objective truth. Here the ways of men divide. If you want to achieve peace of mind and happiness, have faith. If you want to be a disciple of truth, then search.”—Friedrich Nietzsche

“Memento mori—remember death! These are important words. If we kept in mind that we will soon inevitably die, our lives would be completely different. If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die—what makes this any different from a half hour?”—Leo Tolstoy

“We fear death, we shudder at life’s instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in our hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear. When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something last longer than we do.”—Hermann Hesse

“As if the blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”—Albert Camus

When I read Existentialist philosophy, I want it to be true. I think it is beautiful and carefree. Unfortunately, I don’t quite buy it.

So I turn to Transcendentalism. After all, I have practiced yoga all my life. Some of my favorite works of literature are Transcendentalist works, and although I see them as contradicting Existentialist views, I see them also as containing profound truths, and one cannot help but be inspired by the idealism. Here are some of my favorite Transcendental pearls:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he had imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”—Henry David Thoreau

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”—Henry David Thoreau

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”—Henry David Thoreau

“So behave that the odor of your actions may enhance the general sweetness of the atmosphere, that when we behold or scent a flower, we may not be reminded how inconsistent your deeds are with it; for all odor is but one form of advertisement of a moral quality, and if fair actions had not been performed, the lily would not smell sweet. The foul slime stands for the sloth and vice of man, the decay of humanity; the fragrant flower that springs from it, for the purity and courage which are immortal.”—Henry David Thoreau

“Wherever a man goes, men will pursue him and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate oddfellow society.”—Henry David Thoreau

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”—Henry David Thoreau

“Simplicity is the glory of expression.”–Walt Whitman

“Be curious, not judgmental.”—Walt Whitman

“Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.”—Walt Whitman

“I cannot be awake for nothing looks to me as it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.”—Walt Whitman

“To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.”–Walt Whitman

“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems.
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun . . . . there are millions of suns left. 
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand . . . . nor look through the eyes of the dead . . . . nor feed on the spectres in books.
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me.
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”

There was never any more inception than there is now,
nor any more youth or age than there is now;
and will never be any more perfection than there is now,
nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”–“Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

“An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail.”–Walden, Henry David Thoreau

“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Obviously, the commonality in these two modes of thinking is the idea that we are the masters of our own destinies; we are the captains of our ships. The only thing holding us back is ourselves. This is the fundamental appeal of these beliefs for me. I love these beautiful ideas; I revel in the wisdom of these two philosophies. The practical advice they give for surviving in a savage world that seems hopeless, gives me hope–Yet, I don’t really believe any of it for a minute. Something deep inside of me says I am not completely in control, I am not the center of my universe, I am not in charge of today, let alone tomorrow. So, I turn to Modernism, Deism, maybe even some Buddhism. The effort to define life’s truths continues. Perhaps I’ll start my own philosophical movement to incorporate bits and pieces of all these things, but that sounds a lot like something an Existential-Transcendentalist would do.—Christina Knowles

Sources

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