Hello wonderful people.
I’ve next to no time to write. This doesn’t bother me much, as I’ve next to nothing to write lately. Work is a constant. It has a numbing effect, after a time. The numbing is not unwelcome.
They gave me a company phone and a raise. Soon the five guys that I manage will become fifteen or twenty. Soon after that, they will become even more numerous. I’m not exactly sure how I got here. I am afraid of the day they tell me to stop wearing work clothes and to start wearing slacks and dress shoes.
I like getting dirty.
Alan Watts, one of the men credited with introducing the United States to Zen Buddhism some decades back, gave a talk about death. You can find a portion of that talk in a video on the You Tube. Search for “Alan Watts Willing to Die.”
Watts saw himself as an entertainer, by some accounts. He didn’t consider himself a preacher. He was a spiritual man who attained notoriety for allowing the world to be privy to his philosophical journey and his personal ruminations. I find him admirable.
In the aforementioned video he talks about (of course) being “absolutely willing to die.” “Memento mori. Be mindful of death,” he says. He diverges and talks about the unity of things in nature. The singular movement of a flock of many birds. The singular movement of the separate molecules in his hand. He quotes another thinker who said that the most important thing for a person to realize is that they, and everyone they know, will soon be dead.
I like Watts. His philosophy seems not dissimilar to my own, although I recollect having arrived at mine independent of having been overly exposed to his. I identify with the statement that one ought to be “absolutely willing to die.” I think about this daily, if not hourly. Though perhaps not absolutely willing, I am closer to willing now than I think I have ever been.
Everything is change. The journey through life, whatever length it may be, is change. The journey into death is change. Change being unavoidable, it may as well be embraced.
I’ve associates who believe that a vengeful god awaits us after death, prepared to judge us one by one based upon an absolute morality that seems to have not been clearly spelled out to humanity in full at any time in our history. I can’t believe this. I am inclined to think, as Watts did, that all the “stuff” of the universe, all matter and energy, all sentient creatures and all beasts, are constituents of a greater metaphysical singularity. In short, all things exist as one in the distant past or in the distant future. Currently, however, that “one” has fragmented itself, for an unknowable reason, into the world presented before us. In that sense, we are defined not by what we are or think, but rather by our distance from all other things which exist in this moment. My ego, my mind and even my body are equal to my separation from anyone else’s. Passing into death, it seems possible to me, is an obliteration of that gap of space and time between myself and every other thing.
Were this true, then death would spell out the absolute end of “me.” This possibility is the type that could cause me to lose sleep as a younger man. I recall asking myself in years long past what it would be like if there were no god. No afterlife. I was terrified of this at the time, because I was pondering that same thing: the end of me. The total loss of self. I couldn’t imagine it being ok for Charles to not exist. I needed, I thought, my memories. My mind. Connection to loved ones. I needed to exist forever.
I need these things much less now. Moving forward through time, I’ve become acutely aware that many of my endeavors have been, explicitly or not, designed to speed up the loss of myself. I now find the concept generally comforting. Once, not long ago, Jera and I talked about this. I think she was asking me what I thought happened after life. I told her that we probably return to the source and completely disintegrate into it. Her articulated fear was that, in that disintegration, she would no longer be meaningful to me. That she and I would not be eternally cognizant of one another and able to share romantic love in perpetuity. I tried to explain to her that it wouldn’t be that she wasn’t meaningful to me, but that there would be no “me” to which things could any longer be meaningful. I compared her fear here to that old fear of mine. They seemed equivalent. I’ve heard others in recent weeks express similar fears.
I don’t know when I crossed that line from being afraid to not exist to desiring my non-existence. I’m soothed by the idea that even if I am wrong, and there is no overarching metaphysical reality, that I will experience the same annihilation of self in an atheist’s universe. One seems more beautiful to me, but I know that my conception of beauty will not matter at the point of death in either scenario.
I’ve not actively tried to end my life. I hypothesize about what it would be like to die on a daily basis, though. I sometimes feel as though my discomfort will not entirely cease until that moment when I entirely cease. Waking up each day, I am fully aware that this frail body could be made to stop functioning at any time, and I don’t recoil mentally from this.
Yesterday we had a plug valve at work which became pressure locked after being tested to 10,000 psi. Basically, the pressure from the hydrostatic test became trapped in the body of the valve between its inner-parts, and the valve would no longer turn to the “open” position. After trying some unorthodox measures to get the valve to open, I realized that the grease fitting on the side of the valve body would have to be pulled out in order to relieve the pressure. At 10,000 psi, this was a dangerous task. Even if the valve body had only retained half of that pressure, pulling the grease fitting out would be dangerous. The fitting is buried in a half inch tapered-thread hole. There are two varieties of these particular fittings. One style has a “pressure relief” groove cut perpendicular down the length of the threads, which allows pressure inside the valve to be released simply by turning the fitting out a couple of turns. The groove eliminates the hazard of the fitting shooting like a bullet out of the valve when it is being turned out. The second style has no groove on the threads. Yesterday, we were dealing with the second variety. Turning the fitting out came with the risk that, once sufficiently unthreaded, the pressure would shear off the remaining threads and blow the thing out at an extreme velocity.
I thought about my preparedness to die in that moment when I began to turn the grease fitting out with a socket. My guys and I discussed the likelihood that, if it did blow out, the fitting would be caught in the socket and would hopefully just knock the tool out of my hand. But it seemed possible that it would come out so fast that it might still ricochet off of the steel below it, possibly injuring or killing a bystander. I took note that, despite my willingness to die, I held the tool at arm’s length, moved very slowly and deliberately, and kept my body out of the hypothesized line of fire. When the pressure began seeping out of the threads with a persistent hiss, I paused and turned my face away from the equipment. I didn’t feel afraid to die. But I was cautious and did my best to eliminate the possibility of death. After five minutes of turning the fitting out a hair, and letting it hiss, and then turning the fitting out another hair, and then letting it hiss, it was accomplished. The fitting came out without any pop of pressure behind it. The remaining whitish liquid inside drained out below. We were safe. I felt odd. I had behaved as one unprepared to die, and paused to question my assertion that I am, indeed, prepared.
Perhaps it just seems unbecoming to me to die on the job.
Perhaps I’m not as willing as I sometimes think.
When I have a headache, I cry out to a sympathizer: “my head hurts!” I feel like crying out “my life hurts!” I think that people would generally misunderstand that. It is a dull and persistent ache. It feels like a thirst, sometimes. Like I thirst for knowing what lies in that dark space beyond this body. I experience it sometimes as though my body is a cage or a prison cell. I don’t know what lies outside, but I am optimistic about it being better than it is in here. I feel parched.
I am badly in want of an adequate advisor. I am badly in want of someone to follow. It would be nice if Mr. Watts was alive today. I think he might have sufficed as an advisor for a time.
I hope that the summer will be long and blistering hot. The snow may be getting to me.
(P.S.- Yes, I am ok. No, no one needs to worry about me.)