Thursday, July 16, 2009

Life, the universe, and everything

Life can be confusing.
Things happen that don’t make sense. People do things that don’t make sense. Some days more than others, life can be very confusing.

People have the amazing capacity to adapt themselves to their surroundings. We can become used to a room or even a whole building, and walk around in complete darkness without difficulty. Life can be like that too. Once we are in our ‘room of life’ we can exist without light, or direction, quite nicely.

Once we leave our zone of comfort the darkness becomes a hindrance. We need a light to see what is around us. We need some way to define the edges of our world and understand what we see. We need a way for it to make sense. In our comfort zone the world can just be, but in a strange place we need a way to make everything work in the mind before we can understand our place in the world.

In a strange and dark place, our whole world can revolve around a flashlight. Within its beam the world takes shape and edges appear. Things fit, we fit, and confusion ends. When life itself becomes a strange and dark place a flashlight won’t do the trick. We need something more. We need a philosophy.

I define philosophy as a light by which we view the world. Without philosophies to filter what we see and help us understand we can only choose to accept or ignore what we see around us without truly understanding it. Without a philosophy to guide, the pieces the puzzle remains just that, a puzzle.

This concept is what I came to understand when I read a book titled Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand wrote the story as a way to display her own philosophy, 'objectivism'.

When I finished the book I was stunned. Is this what a blind man would feel if vision suddenly appeared?

Darkness can be peeled away by light to reveal the truth of what’s before you, and an idea can peel away the darkness of life to reveal the truth as well. After finishing Atlas Shrugged I was forced to review my own life in a whole new light. It was not a pretty affair. It was not enjoyable. It was not fun. It was honest. I’m not sure I liked me for a while after that.

I was reminded of this while reading a short biographical essay called Georgia O’Keefe by Joan Didion. Didion quotes O’Keefe in several instances and describes her life in terms that make me think O’Keefe and Rand must have crossed paths at some point. They have the same brashness and honestly. They appeared to view life through the same filter, to see what is really there.

Didion describes Georgia O’Keefe with the word ‘Hardness’, then goes on to explain that O’Keefe was thought such because she was honest and straight spoken. She saw what was really there and was not afraid to tell the truth. Didion says “A woman clean of received wisdom and open to what she sees”.

What a wonderful turn of a phrase!

In reading Atlas Shrugged I was exposed to such a viewpoint in a way that struck home. Honesty can be warming or cold. It can be harsh or expected. What it can’t be is good or bad. Those are moral judgments we apply in our own minds when we filter what we see. Clearly seeing what goes on in our own world can never be good or bad, unless we view lying to ourselves as a good thing. Then honesty might be thought bad. Seeing the world clearly and honestly can be frightening and lonely, and perhaps most people shy away from it. Choosing a philosophy that demands honesty is not an easy path through life.

Since the meteoric impact on my life of Atlas Shrugged the world has changed for me. To be more accurate, the world as I see it has changed. Most things have taken on new meaning. Some things mean more, some less, some different.

My life fits better now. I fit better now. Peace is a possibility now. It’s not the world that changed, but I. I switched filters on my camera from polarized to crystal clear. I applied philosophy to my viewpoint with a purpose. I like the world outside my little comfortable room and I want to explore it.

I think I will.

1 comment:

Argie said...

I know how you feel about this. After reading Atlas Shrugged, my flashlight burst into a floodlight. The dark corners of selfdoubt evaporated and the truth stood clear and clean in the revealing brightness. As you said... I,also, fit better now.