Transformation

It's been a while since I've rapped at you, as the noted columnist Jim Anchower used to say. Part of that can be chalked up to the business of my schedule, but part of it also has to do with my unwillingness and inability to put into words some of the recent experiences I have been having.  I am, however, a fundamentally rational and analytic person, and so despite my brushes with the ineffable it seems fitting that I should try to articulate some of what is going on in my life.

In the last two or so months, briefly, I travelled to Israel (arriving the week before the start of the Gaza War) and stayed in the region for a month.  I visited Jordan, saw archaeological sites, participated in the excavations at Tel Megiddo, and generally had a blast. I also had to come face to face with questions of my personal Judaism, figure out how it relates (or, as I found, doesn't relate at all) to Israel, and wrestle with questions of justice and oppression that are too nuanced for short summation in a medium as divisive as the blog post.*

I returned from the Middle East to my comfortable, reasonably happy, and for the most part fulfilling life in Santa Monica. I worked on various academic projects, corresponded and chatted with some intellectual heroes, settled into a routine of yoga, soccer, friends, cooking, and all the things around which I have generally built my comfortable, reasonably happy, and best (or worst) of all content life. There are worse existences; whether there are better was still an open question.

And then I went to Burning Man.

I won't say too much about my experience there. For those who have been, you understand; for those who haven't, you can't. That of which we cannot speak we must pass over in silence

For me, though, coming at a certain place in a certain personal journey, the event was clarifying in a number of ways. I leave some thoughts here for myself as much as anyone else. 

The world really is all that is the case. There should be nothing more. To dwell on what might be or what could be or what should have been is to deny the authenticity of the moment. Conversely, to refuse to dwell on meaning and the search for it is to deny that spark that makes us human, that constant striving for the divine.** To arrive at the moment of mystical truth one must work through to it. You cannot find yourself by fleeing yourself. And the self, I've learned, is real.

It is too easy to build an inauthentic life by trying to please others, to generate a life for show and presentation rather than a life that is vibrant for the person living it. This is even true when you are lucky (as I am) and find that you are in fact doing the one thing (or the many things) you love above all else. When you stop doing them as ends in themselves, but as means toward something else, when the curiosity that led to a pursuit is replaced by the drudgery of knowing that the search now must be continued, even play becomes slavery. 

Finally, thinking with authenticity requires feeling with authenticity, and feeling with authenticity requires the ability to open oneself up to the entire range of human emotion.  It's not always pretty. It can't be done without radical honesty, both to the self and to those around us. I've made some phone calls in the last days that I've needed to make for a long time. 

So where am I? 

On one level, nothing has changed. I am privileged to be surrounded by the kindest people I have ever met. My friends never cease to amaze me. My family is supportive. I am healthy in body and mind, and my lifestyle promotes that as best it can. My job is great, my boss is wonderful, my studies are exactly where I feel comfortable. Occasionally I wish I were more involved in the fight for social justice, but I know that when my time comes I will be there to take up arms in the struggle, in whatever role I was meant to play. Every day I move closer to being the best version of me .

On another level, everything has changed. The focus of my being has shifted inward, so that it can then move outward into the world as itself rather than as a reflection. I stand here, the same cynical rationalist I have always been, yet feeling myself somehow purified by a mystic fire that has left me with a mental clarity about why I pursue the ends I pursue, why I should be grateful beyond belief for the opportunity to pursue them, and why, in the year until my next burn, I will channel every once of my spirit and energy into…I don't know. Words fail. The ineffability of being the center of one's own universe and the hero of one's own journey. 

If you're reading this, and you want to talk to me about something from our past or about our future, please let me know. A month from now I'll be knee deep in participle forms and some of the light may have left my eyes.

henry duststorm

*If you want to talk about Israel, Gaza, Judaism, or whatever, that's cool too. Just don't expect me to have any answers, or to particularly care about what yours are. 

**I am still more or less an atheist. The divine is just a nice shorthand for the ineffable. Let's call it Spinoza's God. Or the more mystical Maimonides.'

© Henry Gruber 2013