I struggle with periodic bouts of existential despair. I don’t mean depression. Just periods when I question what the point of my life is. When I ask, “Is all this really worth it?” At times like this, I feel like this world is not enough, that I secretly long for … something else.
I’ve blogged about this before, and this dynamic is at the heart of my life-long spiritual quest. I am caught between a desire for deep communion with life as it is, and a desire to transcend this life. The need for transcendence caused me to remain in the faith of my childhood for longer than necessary. But even after leaving that faith, I still struggle with these periods of angst.
My wife and I recently completed our wills. Mine include instructions for what I want done with my body. I have always preferred cremation. Ideally, I could have a funeral pyre — Viking style! But, I’ll have to be content with a cremation that our society deems hygienic.
Anyway, since becoming Pagan, I have had mental reservations about that choice. Being buried seems more earth-conscious. In addition to the CO2 that the cremation process produces, the idea of returning to the earth seems more consistent with my Pagan values. Yet, emotionally, something in me longs to return, not to the earth, but to the stars.
So, I tried to find a way to eat my cake and have it too. I have directed that I be cremated, but that half of my ashes be buried under a newly planted tree, and the other half are to be scattered to the wind before a spring storm. I have also directed that the following words be read at the tree planting:
And were an epitaph to be my story I’d have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world. — Robert Frost
and these words at the scattering to the wind:
I am a child of earth and starry heaven, but my race is of heaven alone. — Orphic saying
I think that captures my divided nature.
Today I realized that it is no coincidence that I feel this way and that I have recently left off my daily spiritual practice. And I’ve been absorbed in an online game (Eve Online) for several weeks now. And I’m sick and having trouble breathing. It is no wonder that I am feeling disconnected. What I need is not more escape. What I need is to plunge into the sea of matter, as Teilhard de Chardin writes:
‘Son of earth, steep yourself in the sea of matter, bathe in its fiery waters, for it is the source of your life and your youthfulness.
‘You thought you could do without it because the power of thought has been kindled in you? You hoped that the more thoroughly you rejected the tangible, the closer you would be to spirit: that you would be more divine if you lived in the world of pure thought, or at least more angelic if you fled the corporeal? Well, you were like to have perished of hunger.
‘You must have oil for your limbs, blood for your veins, water for your soul, the world of reality for your intellect: do you not see that the very law of your own nature makes these a necessity for you?
‘Never, if you work to live and to grow, never will you be able to say to matter, “I have seen enough of you; I have surveyed your mysteries and have taken from them enough food for my thought to last me for ever.” I tell you: even though, like the Sage of sages, you carried in your memory the image of all the beings that people the earth or swim in the seas, still all that knowledge would be as nothing for your soul, for all abstract knowledge is only a faded reality: this is because to understand the world knowledge is not enough, you must see it, touch it, live in its presence and drink the vital heat of existence in the very heart of reality.
‘Never say, then, as some say: “The kingdom of matter is worn out, matter is dead”: till the very end of time matter will always remain young, exuberant, sparkling, new-born for those who are willing.
‘Never say, “Matter is accursed, matter is evil”: for there has come one who said, “You will drink poisonous draughts and they shall not harm you”, and again, “Life shall spring forth out of death”, and then finally, the words which spell my definitive liberation, “This is my body”.
‘Purity does not lie in separation from, but in a deeper penetration into the universe. It is to be found in the love of that unique, boundless Essence which penetrates the inmost depths of all things and there, from within those depths, deeper than the mortal zone where individuals and multitudes struggle, works upon them and moulds them. Purity lies in a chaste contact with that which is “the same in all”.
‘Oh, the beauty of spirit as it rises up adorned with all the riches of the earth!
‘Son of man, bathe yourself in the ocean of matter; plunge into it where it is deepest and most violent; struggle in its currents and drink of its waters. For it cradled you long ago in your preconscious existence; and it is that ocean that will raise you up to God.’
So, I am re-committing to my daily practice. And I am going to try to be more present. I’ll let you know how it goes.