I read a short story this week about an utterly conventional and dull fellow who found himself hiking in the “wilds of Scotland” (his complaint, having been forced to go for a walk by his new wife while on their winter honeymoon). At the end of the story, while watching the sun set, they see the Loch Ness monster. And I thought, “Oh, you poor sod. What the hell are you gonna do with that?”
I came home and told my husband about my reaction, and he asked, “And when did you see the Loch Ness Monster?” I thought of all the times that (as Camus puts it in The Myth of Sisyphus) the set has fallen away, and the absurdity of our lives became apparent. I thought about the night I stayed at the Buddhist Abbey, and the prayer wheel fell off the shelf above me in the middle of the night, causing me to sit straight up in bed with the words, “Wake Up!” at the top of my mind. I thought about the first time that my strict logical positivist viewpoint was challenged, when dealing with constructivism during my B.Ed. (“But!” said I, “What I teach has right and wrong answers!”) I thought about my first encounters with postmodernism, non-violent communication, pagans and meditation, about the day that I finally realized that my physical yoga process mirrored my mind-states, about coming to”know” that knowledge is provisional, and subjective, and mediated by our experiences… when I found out that I don’t really know what I mean when I say, “I love you“…
And I said, “All the time.”
The problem is, after you see Nessie, you come home, and everything is still the same. Chopping wood, carrying water, mending shirts, cooking supper. And it doesn’t take long before you start to doubt.
That moment, it felt different. I felt different. But then I came back, and everything else was still the same.
What is worse, you can’t tell people. And since nobody else can tell people either, Nessie remains unspeakable.
I was raised and trained to be a rational materialist. I was told (and accepted) that the world is strictly what can be measured and described scientifically. I “should” (I suppose) be a devotee of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I find myself embarrassed by the subtleties of the world that I have experienced. I find myself waking up in the night thinking, “How could you tell if consciousness precedes form or form precedes consciousness? If consciousness were an emergent phenomenon, what would that imply to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics? Is the world as it is expressive of some deeper pattern, or is it purely a result of random processes? How could you tell the difference??? And how in the name of god(s) can anybody stand living with me? ” (Since I have started turning on the light to write these things down, this last question is becoming a pressing concern.)
And then I get up, and I need to make sure that the kids have skates for the school trip, lunch money, pants that fit, and supper. Chopping wood, carrying water, musing about the nature of reality. And knowing this, if nothing else… there are things that, once you learn them, change everything. Even though they change nothing.
For the record, I don’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster. But I’m willing to be disproved.