“Life is an adventure,” so they say. It is a commonplace that is almost banal, ranking right up there with “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” But, I find it really is an adventure which takes place when one begins to venture beyond the narrow confines of the way one was taught to see…and feel…the world. But the real challenge lies in the very difficult task of becoming aware of this narrow prism through which one views the world, how the tyranny of assumptions shapes our fundamental perceptions of the world. And to ask one to see these premises that shapes this world view is like asking a fish to see water.
It must be noted by those of us who swim in the aether of cerebral thought that most people in the world cannot ever make this meta-cognitive leap; and for them to do so would be catastrophic for human culture. The day-to-day grind of reality depends on people who “mindlessly” go through the motions of their daily life without questioning the “basic assumptions” that I am putting on the table here. And furthermore, for me to use the term “mindless” here merits caution as I do have a contempt gene which is too often near the surface!
We are tribal creatures and the tribal rituals are easily analyzed by people like myself who have lived their whole life “off the grid” in some fashion. (I think one term for people like me is “pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals” or perhaps more accurately “alienated.”) But we are a tribe, a global tribe composed of smaller tribes who must somehow find a way to live together with a modicum of harmony. But each tribe has an innate tendency to not see beyond the safe confines of its basic assumptions and each member of that tribe learns to drink the same “kool-aid.” That is what makes it a tribe.
But the adventure of life starts when we realize that we have “drank the kool-aid” in some fashion and are shaped by basic assumptions given to us by our culture. Then we can begin to find a bit of freedom and can begin to play with reality. Yes, we can even begin to “play with our self” (wink, wink) and with the beautiful human and natural world that we find ourselves in, a beautiful “Garden of Eden” in some sense.
However, it is scary! We are hard-wired to live within those “safe confines” and to suddenly realize we are “off the reservation” can easily be a Pyrrhic victory. To take a quantum leap here, it will ultimately bring us to the Shakespearean issue of “to be, or not to be” and can even bring one to the point of suicide. For it is gut-wrenchingly painful to realize that one does not belong to the tribe, to be deprived of that “fig-leaf,” and to stand there on that heath like King Lear, pelted by that pitiless storm, naked as a jay-bird.
This is where faith comes in for me. But the temptation here is to take one’s tribal faith, make a fanatical investment or re-investment in it, and hold on “come hell or high water.” And all fanaticism (i.e., “addiction) has its roots with this deep-seated existential loneliness. The tribal religion that my culture offered me was the Judeo-Christian tradition and I have certainly allowed it to be in my life the “opiate” that Karl Marx described. But opiate does not work for me anymore…or at least that one does not! (I do drink too much!) I find that my “tribal religion” offers symbols, stories, traditions that are very valuable as I stand here on this heath with King Lear and others and find that there is hope and even purpose. This “adventure” I am discovering now beyond those aforementioned “confines” involves death, for pushing limits always involves a death-wish of some sort but the Christian tradition teaches that death and live are intertwined and that to “die” is to “live.” To put it succinctly, there is no “life” without “death.” Oh yes, there is existence but there is no experience of human-ness, being a live body and soul for this brief moment we have in this time-space continuum. This is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples who wanted to delay going with him for to help with a burial party, “Let the dead bury the dead.”
However, here is an important point that I’ve already touched on. It is easy to interpret that quip from Jesus to mean that everyone else in the world who did not follow him was “dead” and therefore would “burn in hell one day.” That is how I was taught! But I don’t think so. Jesus was playing with words, telling his disciples that they needed to follow him and let the burial party take care of its business, that it did not need them. Jesus was saying that the rest of the world was okay and “dead” was only a metaphor to say they were not amenable to his teachings, that their role in life was to see things differently and to live different lives within “safe confines.” Jesus realized that the “adventure” I’ve described here was not for everybody but that their life also was “ok”.