One of the reasons I meditate is to be able to block out sound. This may seem strange at first glance, but one benefit of meditation is focus. You need to be able to move through your day with awareness, but not restless distraction. Aleister Crowley once vented his frustration at trying to meditate in a London apartment, with much noise outside. He then realized that it was the perfect training ground. If he could meditate there, he could meditate anywhere.
I still meditate daily, but I’m not doing such a good job at blocking. And it’s causing me a lot of stress. Not while I meditate—usually while I’m trying to sleep. Under normal circumstances, I can sleep through anything. However, as of late, I find myself waking up between midnight and 2 am, unable to fall back to sleep right away.
This is because Mother Nature is trying to destroy the United States. Or something. In any event, we’ve had even more rain this week, and the sound of rain on skylights is not relaxing. It sounds like someone shelling the house with M16 rounds. Knowing that my cats are learning how to sail in my basement does not do anything to help the “not relaxing” part. Nor does knowing that I’ll have to go outside and deal with it.
Even when the rain subsides, I have more sounds to deal with. If a single bedspring creaks, if I get up to use the bathroom, a chorus begins in the basement of yowling cats. This has nothing to do with the rain; they do this in all weather. My one indoor cat will then assume I am awake and ready to play, and when he sees that I’m not so playful, he will curl up next to me and start cleaning himself. Because he has a perpetual case of sniffles, this is a very noisy proposition. So—for the next hour I hear “YOWL slurp slurp sluuurp YOWL YOWL slurpslurpslurp YOWL MEOWMEOWMEOWMEOW honk slurp sluuurp” (repeat until my nerves feel like they’ve been attacked with a cheese grater). When this is combined with the rain, it is a true symphony of chaos. I imagine it’s similar to what Lewis Black describes as “the sound of pigs being slaughtered, of men and women gnashing their teeth”. If I made a recording and posted it, you would never read this blog again if you decided to listen to it.
Recent weeks have made me more convinced than ever that Chaos is the ruling principle of the universe. When my mother was visiting my house during her own power outage, we watched one of Joseph Campbell’s “Power of Myth” episodes. In this episode, Campbell talked about the Trickster archetype. Bill Moyers asked him about its significance; Campbell replied, “Well, you think you’ve got it all figured out and BAM!” The Trickster shows you that you know nothing at all.
I’ve been reading a lot on something called TMT (Terror Management Theory) as of late. TMT suggests that religion has its origins in the management of death anxiety. The studies in support of this theory are fascinating. Some of the most interesting involve motivations to violence or compassion depending on the response to death anxiety. Fundamentalists react violently to things that challenge their world view, as it gives them greater death awareness. In one study, Christians were exposed to Bible verses that condone or glorify violence, and their behavior became more aggressive (and more prejudiced). On the other hand, when exposed to verses that encouraged compassion and respect, the violent tendencies decreased significantly.
There are several critiques of this theory, which is behavioristic in nature, though the authors of the theory make no claim to “explain away” religious belief with this theory. I feel they shouldn’t focus exclusively on death anxiety, even though that is a good example of a chaotic unknown. Religious belief serves as a tool for coping with the unknown, for dealing with the wonder and mystery of things beyond the mind that we know exist but can’t express. We don’t know anything about it except that we don’t know—and that it is chaotic in nature.
H.P. Lovecraft had a “chaotic blind idiot god” called Azathoth. As I’ve mentioned before, Lovecraft’s monsters and other beings were not waging a good vs. evil battle. They were representations of these impersonal, chaotic forces in the universe. Lovecraft was neither a religious man nor an occultist—he was a materialist in the extreme. The horror of his work is the horror of knowing that there’s not a personal god or devil interested in your actions. These forces move with indifference, and all you can do is struggle to adapt. It is interesting that the key to happiness has little to do with how many “good” things happen to you that give you pleasant feelings. It has more to do with one’s ability to detach from expectations of outcome, and to live purely for the experience of living, regardless of what that involves. Eastern religions would call it a “true present”, not lamenting the past or worrying about the future. In short, it is how well you live with chaos. This is achieved through meditation.
And so, we come full circle from the beginning of this post.