tangyabominy: A misty, magical-looking lake hidden in deep forest. (secret gardens)
[personal profile] tangyabominy
There are a large number of people in the world who find all the awe and wonder they need in scientific marvels, in the magnificent power of nature to compel and fascinate. There are some, even, who don't have a particular drive for grand wonders, though these displays still move them.

For still others, scientific advances and nature's wonders are no less marvels. This particular subset of people does not fail to properly appreciate them. But such things always make them feel that there's a qualitative difference between that and something else they're looking for. And their whole lives feel oriented towards, more or less, this one goal: searching for something they can't quite find.

They will walk through beauty, appreciate wonder, find glimmers of joy and hope in the natural world; some of them will struggle with its not feeling like enough, while some will find enough succour in this to feel relatively at peace. But ultimately, whether they've managed to carve out comfort for themselves or not, there remains the unshakeable, deep-down feeling that what they're for is not any of this. Even the world's grandest wonders seem to point not to themselves, but to a liminal Elsewhere, always just within grasp yet somehow out of reach. In their most thoughtful and reverent reflections upon the beauty of the world around them, there's always a little something lacking; something that says, "it's not about this, quite. We are not in a closed loop. There's a door Out, through this beauty, into something else, and that's why things are beautiful: to give us a hint as to where to go". It can leave one feeling a little like this world is a hologram, a mere projection of the actual source.

If people like this can't believe that there's anything more, they often turn to despair. They can feel the fringes of real fulfilment tempting them, yet no matter what they do, what high they try or what fascinating endeavour they sink themselves into, nothing quite captures it, everything feels beside the point. It's not that they're just chemically unable to be happy; such people can be as happy as anyone else, for periods. It's not that their emotions are numbed. But what they are not is philosophically content. Their view of the world leaves them with unsatisfactory answers, or rather lack thereof. It doesn't explain this nagging feeling that there's More, that none of this is the answer to the question and that the answer is the most important thing.

"Why are we here?" It's a fascinating question. But to some people, the answer isn't just a curiosity. They cannot shake the feeling that they must be here for something, not merely because that sounds nice but because, everywhere they turn, they feel little resonant flickers of it, like a memory of a half-forgotten dream, or like a phantom limb. And every attempt to convince them that "meaning is what you make of it" only causes them to struggle further. It's as if all your life, you've had this feeling that you're deeply in love with someone you don't know and have never met, and people are telling you, "well, it obviously isn't anything real. So it can mean whatever you want it to mean." But that doesn't stop the yearning to find the missing loved one, the conviction that somewhere out there there's someone or something that's trying to get your attention, that's made things so that there's this empty pulling space in your life.

As aforementioned, there are other people out there, many other people, who can find the answer to their personal question of longing in the beauty of nature's wonders. There are some people who find it in scientific fact, or never had a question to begin with. But it remains that for some people, though they search and search through all the physical things the world has to offer, and they look at the wonder that other people are showing to them, they can't seem to find anything that fulfils That One Need: indeed, from what they perceive as the source of That One Need, they might say that they've never perceived it as anything physical, always had a sense of it as "just beyond" or "just behind" physical reality.

This, for some people, is the driving force behind spirituality. For some people, it's "I was born into this church, and my pastor tells me so", or "I just haven't thought of anything better yet". For some people, it's an abiding fear of divine punishment. For some people, it's the thrill they get from the idea that they might be the Chosen Ones, sent by God to legislate his will on Earth, and that all the people they don't like are miserable sinners, coupled with a love of norms and traditionalism and a hatred of anything Different. For some people, it's all about the money they can get from controlling the voting preferences of those last three types.

But for some people, it is all about this sehnsucht, the inescapable feeling that something wondrous awaits. In some people, this longing for "home" might come with feelings of not really being human, of being some majestic dragon or angel or powerful swift-running animal; in others, it might conjure the image of Heaven, or the Elysian Fields, or the Summerland. Some imagine neither a specific form nor a specific afterlife, but a return to All That Is; in either case, what strongly surrounds this is a feeling of homecoming, a place belonged to in the past but to which one will, it is surely felt, inevitably return. (Hence, perhaps, two of the most common Otherkin beliefs: "I was X kind of creature in a past life", and "the gates will open/the veil will be brushed aside, and I will be what I was once more".)

Call it ludicrous, call it fantasy, but there is no questioning the truth that people feel these things, feel them burning relentlessly in their hearts no matter how much they try to push them away and "live a normal life".

It is these people, generally, for whom I write, when I speak of spirituality. This post has mostly been to elaborate on who they are, and why I might sympathise with them.

July 2011

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