“I am writing because I am finding myself in way over my head with this truth-or-death thing I’ve started.
I will start by saying that a few months ago I fell into what I now believe to have been “the void of voids.” I was washing dishes, and suddenly life drained out of everything. Everything became ugly. I stopped what I was doing, I was thinking “No, no, this cannot be, I want to go back.”
I feel there is no point to enlightenment, it’s not meant for this world and is totally beside the point. I started this pursuit because I thought I was a dysfunctional person with nothing to lose, but now my dysfunctions are looking pretty good. I feel like I’m in an impossible place. Can’t go forward, and don’t know if I can go back.
Do you have any words for me? Is this enlightenment?”
I still remember the day. I was nine years old. I finished my homework rapidly, shoved the entire sandwich my mother had made for me in my mouth, grabbed my cricket bat and went racing out the door. My mother yelled something inaudible as the door slammed shut. I flew down the stairs of the apartment building skipping two steps, then three, then leaping over entire flights at a time. I throttled down the road, turned the corner and then sped through the field to where a group of boys were setting up the wickets.
“Great! You haven’t started yet,” I wheezed doubling over to catch my breath.
“Yeah we waited for you, you fucker,” one of the older boys guffawed.
“Hey, I bet he was busy watching his parents fucking,” his twin brother bellowed as the other boys burst into raucous laughter.
“Fuck you, I wasn’t!” I retorted in indignation.
“Don’t lie you shithead. They were busy fucking each other’s brains out weren’t they?” more raucous laughter followed.
“You wanna fuck with me?” I was starting to get incensed.
“Ewww, gross!” twin number one chortled.
“Come on buddy! Let’s fuck!” I challenged.
“Waitaminute, waitaminute! Do you even know what that word means?” twin number two was looking at me with an amused expression.
“Of course I do asshole. It means to fight!” I replied masking my gnawing suspicion that my understanding of the word may have some holes in it.
“Oh ho ho ho! What we have here boys is one who has yet to be initiated into the dark secrets of life!” twin two’s eyes sparkled mischievously.
What followed over the next ten minutes was my introduction to the “sex talk”: the GRAPHIC NOVEL version. And the scars it left on my psyche would take many months to heal. For a long time after I could barely look my parents in the eye. They repulsed me. And my own sexual urges repulsed me even more.
I lost my innocence that day and the world turned gray almost overnight. What kind of existence was this where such a disgusting thing had to happen in order for people to be born? Suddenly I saw the parents of all my friends and realized they too had done the nasty. And my grandparents, those sweet, honorable and chaste people had also stripped off their clothes and rolled and howled like animals biting, scratching, screaming, penetrating? Like I said, the boys had painted a pretty picture.
Life began to feel increasingly dirty. And there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t scrub it off, I was enveloped by it! How does someone swimming in a sewer with no hope of getting out ever get clean? I spent months feeling utterly repulsed by almost everything.
Then one day I came across some romance novels in my mother’s room. And I began perusing them out of curiosity. And gradually, I became educated into a whole new way of viewing the sexual act.
These people were not molesting each other on the toilet while I obliviously watched television in the next room (as the twins had vividly illustrated for me). No, they were rolling around in the warm hay of a barn on a stormy night. They were not abusing each other like vermin. No, she was gently grasping his throbbing manhood while he playfully caressed her velvety softness. And as the tip of his tongue rendezvoused with her gently cresting peaks, my revulsion began to give way to the wanton desire to deposit my own fertile loam into the luxuriant delta of another being…
Creating narratives, both spectacular and horrific, of the events of our lives as they unfold is something all human beings have a propensity for. It’s what, according to the famous Polish philosopher Alfred Korzybski, makes us “time binders”. In fact, civilization as we know it today would not have been possible if this “story telling” capacity within us had not been so pronounced. History is, after all, nothing more than the story of all humanity.
We create narratives about society, about the world, about other people, about ourselves, about the unknown. So it is unsurprising, that all these narratives about “enlightenment” should exist. The great irony here, of course, is that enlightenment is meant to signify a release from all narratives. But this is just a small inconvenient fact easily swept under the rug when one really gets into it.
And so we end up with a whole spectrum of narratives about “what enlightenment is”. They range from downright arousing (like two beautiful and amply endowed lovers making passionate love in a barn on a stormy night) to downright terrifying (like imagining your parents writhing in a pile of sweat and stench on the toilet).
Of course, nothing in life is ever THAT sensational. But we want it to be. We need it to be. Something within us craves sensationalism. It’s why tabloid magazines sell better than scientific journals do. It’s why the posts in which I take the piss out of guru types are generally more popular than the ones in which I share my musings on life. We want to be shocked, aroused, titillated and terrified. Absolutely anything to escape the mundane matter-of-factness of this moment as it actually appears.
The shitty (or un-shitty, depending on how you want to see it) reality of the matter is, of course, that NOTHING can escape the mundane matter-of-factness of this moment. That is all there really is. It’s all mundane. It’s all matter-of fact.
So you’ve sprouted angel wings and now can soar high above the city skyline. Well, don’t get too pumped about it. This too will become the new normal one day. And when it does, it’ll feel like just another boring Monday flying from one ordinary rooftop to the next.
We like to create a great sense of melodrama (both positive and negative) about sudden shifts in our perception but really there is nothing either celebratory or distressing about any of it. It’s a natural aspect of how all beings evolve. Only we tend to react in these ways because we are used to blowing things out of proportion.
For instance, calling what you experienced: “falling into the void of voids” is unhelpful language, in my opinion. It makes you sound like Daenerys Targaryen venturing into the mouth of hell to become the Mother of Dragons. It makes for an entertaining narrative but that’s about it.
So you had an epiphany. Ok. So you realized the world is ugly and that even loved ones can be vile and despicable. No problem. Hell, my kids are vile and despicable several times a day. They are inspiring and adorable as well. I am vile and despicable as fuck sometimes and it’s a wonder anyone puts up with me. So, what? None of this represents the ABSOLUTE state of things. You have finally seen that all human beings are lovable creatures yet equally detestable at the same time. We are every bit as worthy of being disliked as we are of being liked.
This is what sobering up looks like. If getting sober was easy, every addict would be doing it. There is a reason they’re not. And that’s because the addict realizes that getting sober doesn’t make one’s issues go away. It just makes them all the more stark and apparent.
This PROCESS of enlightenment is a series of revelations which feel earth shattering when they happen, yet in hindsight are nothing more than a casual step forward. It’s not something worth singing praises off the peak of some mountain over. Nor is it something worth screaming in horror over as if you’ve just seen a killer clown in a sewer. You are being gradually stripped of your cozy and binary way of viewing things and are instead being immersed in a mandala of infinite grays.
It takes a little bit of time to reorient to this new normal .But it’ll happen just as it always has. Just like being dumped by your high school sweetheart is something you believed, at the time, you would never recover from. The loss of the “rose-tinted” view always feels likes the color has drained from life. But in time the clarity gained is something far more fulfilling.
The only reason this revelation feels burdensome right now is because it is being loaded with significance and seriousness. This isn’t actually all that serious of a matter. As you are experiencing the crisis of the decade, your body is still carrying on as usual, the birds are still going about their business, couples across the world are still making love in a barn or on a toilet seat or whatever.
So my first suggestion to you would be, no matter how profound of a shift in view you think you’ve had, lighten up about it. Give it time and try not to get ahead of yourself. None of it is a big deal.
The most exciting part of your revelation, as far as I’m concerned, was the part when you said,
“I was washing the dishes.”