Wednesday 23 September 2015

What Life Looks Like

Recently, I visited with someone I hadn't seen in about 20 years, except on Facebook. Let's call her Phoenix, because that would be cool if her name was Phoenix. Though we have very little in common, Facebook decided that I would be fascinated by the details of her life as a hobby farmer and organic activist and that I needed to see everything she ever posted, everyday, in my newsfeed. I did not agree, but Facebook took care of all the details and maintained the connection for me and I was too lazy to alter these settings.

About a year ago, I noticed some very interesting things begin to happen in her posts. She seemed to have acquired religion—and not one of the many main-stream ones—this one involved rainbows, crystals, auras and past lives. The change seemed to happen rapidly and I could tell that she was in very deep. And then, out of the blue, she messaged me and I felt inspired to meet with her.

Why? Well, firstly, I always felt that she was an interesting person and I do care about her. I actually care about pretty much every person I ever met... especially if they are cute and female. Admittedly, I have trouble letting go of friendships, and even casual acquaintances. Before Facebook, I would go to great lengths to maintain relationships with people who would otherwise have been naturally-selected out of my day-to-day existence. The closest I come to understanding this compulsion is that either I am afraid that one of these connections will prove valuable beyond reason or I am afraid of losing the entertainment value of the people in my life. It's truly mystifying to me because I'm also terrified of being caught in obligations that eat up valuable me-time, like helping someone move, or shooting their third wedding video or having to make a speech at their kid's graduation.

Probably the largest reason I wanted to meet with Phoenix was that I was curious how this drastic change in belief systems had affected her marriage and friendships. Also, I hadn't blogged in a while and may have been hoping for new material... which, apparently, I got.

I am always interested in alternate points of view. In particular, I am curious how beliefs that are very far from my own survive the tests of everyday observation and reality. For instance, if you believe that you can telekinetically summon a protective force field, then how do you reconcile that with the fact that the rock I just threw hit you in the head and that we are now in an ambulance on the way to a hospital? By the way, sorry about that, I guess I didn't have to pick such a large one, or throw it so hard, but on the other hand it shows how much I believed in you. That is a  nasty dent, but you're insured, right? Oh, and what were you planning to say to the police?

Anyway, I met Phoenix for lunch and as I'd guessed, her entire life was in upheaval but her new-found religion was keeping her eerily calm and composed. Her husband had left her, neglecting to take his debts with him. She was forced to sell her house and was moving her few remaining possessions into a storage locker, this made more difficult by the fact that no longer had a car. She was about to start living out of a backpack and showering at a local campsite. But, she seemed completely at peace.

In fact, she seemed to be vibrating with excitement and positive energy. If I had been her, I would have been despondent and desperate and drinking heavily... possibly sniffing kerosene in a ditch along the side of the highway while trying to calculate whether my body was worth more being prostituted or parted out to science.

Beyond the obvious physical realities of her life, which were astounding in their own right, the things that were happening in her mind were also incredible. She had recently remembered her entire history of past lives and had connected (via the internet) with others who had been part of her past, including several husbands. She explained to me that she had recently become "fully psychic" and thus could now instantly distinguish between good and evil people. Throughout our visit she broke away to commune with distant friends and ancient relatives, like a teenager interrupting to text.

Talking with her was absolutely fascinating and I had a good time, but at one point I had to ask her to slow down because her world and mine are so disparate that I felt like I was translating every phrase from one language to another and it was exhausting.

I think that we both enjoyed ourselves, but it felt a bit as if we'd chatted on the Hypernet, met on Earth for a speed-date that didn't prove a match and then both happily returned to our home worlds understanding that I was Martian and she was, at the very least Venusian, possibly Plutonian and that this could never work, long term.

A couple of weeks later, while having tea with my Mom and Dad, I recounted this meeting. My Mother and I are similar in nature and she instantly understood my curiosity and how I could suspend my skepticism, going in. My Father, on the other hand, thought my friend was a "nutbar," and me as well for getting within a hundred feet of her. He asked me how I could understand a single word she said and whether I bought into any of it. I told him that I had to translate things like "energies," "auras," "angels," "devils," and "past lives" into terms that I could relate to in my world, but that I didn't reject any of her interpretation.

My Father would probably call himself a straight-shooter; a simple man who sees things as they really are. He said, "That's just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, psycho crap." I tried to explain to him my personal "model of Life," a visual aid I use to understand how someone else's view of the world can be so extremely different from my own.

Imagine that everyone in the universe is standing in a large circle, jammed shoulder to shoulder as close as they can get. This is you and me and everyone else in the universe.

Imagine at the center of the circle is an object. It is very large, 3-dimensional and complex. A person standing on the opposite side of the object sees an entirely different shape, texture and colour, and can not see through it enough to see his opposite member. This object is Life.

In the circle, a person very close to you shares common experiences of things like culture, schooling and heritage. As they are looking from a point of view extremely close to yours they have a very similar perspective on Life, and therefore they see it much the way you do. Those further away get an entirely different view of life and are, therefore, less like you.

A person on the opposite side of Life, is looking at the same object but seeing something entirely different. Because Life is so large and not transparent, this person is unable to even see you, let alone understand you. To such a person, you and your core values are all vaguely imaginable fantasy .

In my model, no one's view is exactly the same. No one's view is the whole picture. All views are valid.

This is how I can understand and accept experiences as radically different from mine, as my friend, Phoenix's with out threatening my own beliefs in any way. In the final analysis, all I am really concerned about is whether this alternate point of view might be destructive to the person, or to those around them. 

There was a pregnant pause while my Father stared at me, over the top of his newspaper. My guess is that he was trying to decide if I was really his kid. I sometimes forget that not everyone needs to construct a visual aid to navigate Life. My father is a prime example. I think that he's an extremely happy man, but he has no built-in desire to dissect his universe. He is a do-er, not a ponderer. He likes to play golf and internet poker, watch movies and socialize with family and friends. There are distinct advantages to being this way, the primary one being that he is almost perpetually satisfied with life—so long as Netflix runs smoothly. As well, he tends not to hand out all sorts of unsolicited advice. This could be wisdom, or it could be that he doesn't have any advice. These things make him an attractive person and fun to be with. On the other hand, he is quick to tell you how wrong you were, after the fact, which can make him much less fun to be with, but fulfills him as a parent. So, again, he's happy.

"You're as crazy as she is," he declared, shaking the wrinkles out of the broadsheet and retreating to the safety of rational things like religious extremists, genocide, rape and murder.


For an alternate view on Life...
Why not buy my time travel, action/adventure novel?

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