April 26, 2012
I assume, probably safely, that most of you have experienced moments in life in which its principal character—you—seems to be detached from the reality of that moment. We are familiar with this sensation from our dreams—the disconnect, our selves behaving abnormally, our thoughts the thoughts of lunatics or heroes, calm in the face of madness or calm in the face of villainy.
But waking life has the same potential to catch us unaware, else how could our subconscious produce the phantasms of our dreams. For all of our efforts to tap reality throughout a given day, we are prone to illusions. So I am not overly surprised when I find myself outside of myself, floating cloud-like or falling anvil-like.
In fact, it would appear that those vertiginous moments of surreality (whether experienced while asleep or awake) might be just as actual as the rest of our experiences. Which is to say, if at any given moment I could just as well see myself from the inside as watch myself from the outside, then the sensation of detached identity is an illusion—there is no duality of mind, no two beings occupying the same space, there is simply a switch in perception, a toggle between the typical and the occasional.
This is not meant to sound like hocus-pocus or some drug-induced hippy notion; it is just a statement of conceivable fact. And to my understanding, conceivability is an aspect of the imagination; imagination does not create (don’t tell the artists), it unearths clay from possibility and fashions something lovely or gruesome or something more subtle. It is conceivable that I am actually floating like a cloud but it is inconceivable that I am floating like an hurangamatang. (I did not create that word, I invented it for the nonce from a pre-existing lexicon.)
Anyway, if we take the above-mentioned suggestions to be accurate, then our highly esteemed “reality” is little more than a ramshackle construction of our perceptions—our five senses in cahoots with our Five-Star Conceiver, the brain.
[Note: I leave the metaphysical and idealistic to the Eleventy-Star Conceivers. My aptitude for the unnatural is embarrassingly slim.]
Sorry about that. My stream of consciousness often finds an alcove and eddies for awhile. Let’s leave the “actual” to its eccentricity and proceed to the practical. Let dreams be goofy and waking life be normal and out of body sensations be anomalous. Above all, let Jonathan be sensible.
Back to the disconnect. That harrowing moment or string of moments when you find it hard to believe that the life you’re living is the life you’re living. This can be a good feeling—a dramatic change in your circumstances for the better, be it a lottery won, or a sublime view of the ocean. Or a bad feeling—a dramatic change in your circumstances for the worse, be it a fortune lost, or an impending tsunami. Or it can also be an ambivalent feeling—for good or for bad, that real “you” is left to its own devices and this other “you” is AWOL.
OK, let Jonathan be pertinent. Sensible eludes him.
I often find myself in a state of good health. A brief inspection would prove the state false, but for whatever reason, it does not occur to me that I am limited. For instance, I can be stretched out on the sofa, watching TV, eating Pringles and meanwhile lapse into a semblance of tumorlessness. Like anybody else so engaged, I’m being lazy, becoming desensitized, and growing fatter. I’m the sort of person who could, at a moment’s notice, get up, get decently dressed, and walk to the 7-11 for more Pringles. Or, I can be outside in the fresh air, watching the birds fly in and out of the swaying gum tree boughs, attuned to nature—her small delights and massive powers—and reckon myself boundless—the hiking poet of my youth, the rock-scaling, cliff-jumper.
But for practical purposes, no, that is not me. My state of mind does not match my state of brain. And without fail, this realization returns with jarring force. Of a sudden, I am weak. As if this was the first I’d heard of it. Me, hobbled? Maybe that blond, bearded man sitting exactly where I’m sitting, but not me.
Though I go weeks or months without a seizure, I am, in reality, just one shock away from one. Though I go years with a static tumor, I am ever wary of its sudden growth.
Today I am tired but feeling alright. Feeling well enough to skip chemo next week. But no, the sensation and the truth are out of alignment. The fact is, I am tired because of the chemo and I feel alright because its last dosage is three weeks behind me. In either case, it is relative to the chemo and the chemo is relative to the tumor and the tumor is a matter of fact.
Nonetheless, next week in the misery of incessant nausea, I will have moments of eerie transcendence. Cloud-like, I’ll hover above me, pity the blond, bearded man, but disbelieve his condition as my own. In the throes of my next seizure (though I wouldn’t complain if there was no “next”), the agony will be all consuming, the only reality; but as my brain relaxes and the spasms subside, I will as I almost always do, disbelieve that that lump of recovering flesh is me.
I wonder what I’m driving at here. My eddying stream of consciousness has become a stagnant pool. I think maybe I’m just commiserating with the whole lot of us who find ourselves unconvinced at times of our foothold in reality. Those for whom the lines between waking and dreaming occasionally blur and the surreal is as impressive of a possibility as the factually real.
Sometimes a pleasant reprieve from crappiness, sometimes an ominous burden of crappiness, the sensation, with respect to crap, can go either way.
Sometimes I am well, other times sick as hell. But at all times, I’m only an illusion away from the opposite sensation. And I think I’m fine with that. At least, I can be reasonably assured when my sickness is center-stage that there is a well-being in the wings waiting for its cue. It’s imaginable. It’s conceivable. It’s a lovely, clay-made possibility. It’s hurangamatangtabulous.