“Skipping between Timelines”

“He believed in an infinite series of times,
in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of
diverging, converging and parallel times.”
—Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”

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DESPITE ITS MATHEMATICAL TERRORS, the curiosities of quantum mechanics have drawn me in. Since last year, I have buried myself into reading its concepts, especially its framework of space, time, and reality. According to its theories, time does not run in a straight line; instead, timelines bifurcate infinitely: all moments, the theories supposed, exist simultaneously—the past, the present, the future—and are like branched-out threads weaved together into a singular rope, which, hypothetically, makes up the whole universe.

          A god sees the universe as a finished race—its beginning, middle, and end all perceived in a single flash of a moment. All this is indeed difficult, maybe even impossible, for us to grasp since the whole idea stands contrary to what our senses perceive. But a physicist’s inspection on how atoms behave on a quantum level tells us that what we see is not exactly what it is. Well, to us nonscientists, quantum mechanics is either a food for the imagination or a trigger to a headache.

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In the university’s dormitory bed, weary from the day’s ridge and tunnel hike, I pondered about reality and quantum mechanics and came to realize the different timelines happening in the world within my skull. Then I entered the first layers of my dream.

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The dream: I was asked to write a piece inspired by the hike: be it a short story, a poem, an essay, or a haiku. I could remember the first stanza of the poem I wrote titled “The Test of Time is the Jest of God,” “Time is God’s measure / Of how much a rock / Can take / Before it breaks.” The poem ended with the next stanza (the first line of which eluded my memory), “[…] / So the cracks remain silent/ And, without despair, accept / God’s eyes into their darkness.” Admittedly, I imagined during the hike that if I peeked into the cracks, my eyes would, by chance, meet God’s or someone else’s.

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And during the hike, I walked behind a girl and took fancy of her impossibly supple and shapely waist, which, in each her twists, turns, and bends, made my blood boil and undeniably inspired this haiku: “Let my fingers trace / That spine of yours that tempts me / Like a devil’s snake.” Reading the lines, one does not need to look far for an interpretation.

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Illustration by Geraldine Sy

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In the short story titled “Limbo” (apparently envisioned as we reached the ridge’s peak), the narrator, sensing the story’s coming end, refused to continue lest he might disappear afterward. So he went back narrating in reverse, risking the story to fall into a frightening absurdity: “The summit awaits all of us. But I fear we have nothing to see there afterward. Shall we continue? Shall we continue? But I fear we have nothing to see there afterward. The summit awaits all of us.” The story went on and back.

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Oddly enough, I conceived of an essay, titled “At the End of the Tunnel,” stating that “the end is imminent, so even if one is alive here and now, one should consider himself dead and gone already, for the future is inevitable and as irrevocable as the past…. In the journey of life, the light at the end of the tunnel is the light of the end—that is, death—and the darkness inside the tunnel was that of life.” Unlike the narrator in “Limbo,” we have been nearing the end of our stories one line at a time, and “in the end, we are all nothing but words.”

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So that’s all I’m able to retrieve from the dream. In another timeline’s future, I may have completely written all those pieces better or perfectly. And probably some future is now reading this article, since, to quote Borges, “the future already exists now.”

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I hope, in some future out there, I have read and written all the books I want before “getting out of the tunnel.”

(Published on Sun.Star Weekend, October 9, 2016)

“Thy Will, Will Not Be Done”: The Dictate of the Human Conscience

Only those who are truly religious can avail the luxury of skepticism.
—Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols,
or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer

I have found God, but He is insufficient.
—Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

FIRST AND FOREMOST, I would like to note to the reader that I am neither a theologian nor a scholar of philosophy; I am simply a man without profession who is conducting the following moral scrutiny under the rudimentary dialectic acquired through a life devoted to literature and psychology. Admittedly, I am self-conscious over tackling a subject in which I may be direly underqualified to discuss. Nonetheless, I wish to proceed with my conjecture.

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The contemplation on the life and death of Christ, evoked by the Lent season, has impelled me to undertake the arduous task of composing an essay born of strife toward the conventional standpoint from which Christ’s crucifixion is viewed: as a glorious, miraculous event because through Christ’s death and resurrection, mankind’s grace and relationship with God are restored.

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So here shall I properly begin my analysis:

In The Brothers Karamazov chapter entitled “Rebellion,” Dostoyevsky’s character Ivan Karamazov boldly states that mankind’s salvation rested on “the blood of a tortured child” (Christ is as innocent and pure as a child) and that a respectable man upon realizing this should “return God’s ticket” as its price will have cost him his conscience because the “ticket” has been soaked in the blood of the innocent. “If the suffering of children is required to pay for the original sin, I’d take no part of it.” Ivan speaks of children to make his point obvious: that eternal life is overpriced because it demands the sacrificing of the “lamb.”

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Is it right to let an innocent be punished for another man’s sins? It has been preached over the centuries that out of love, Christ bore all mankind’s punishment in the cross. To quote my best friend,

What happened actually on a hill full of barbarians and soldiers on a good Friday afternoon was that the probability of bloodshed was shouldered by one man, on that one single moment of uncontainable glory.

The said perspective never fails to arouse indignation in me. I believe that the crucifixion is unjustifiable since “[that] child’s tear will remain unatoned for” even if He were resurrected and humanity were delivered from sin. (How could not letting an innocent die be a sin in itself—not to God, but to humanity?) Furthermore, how could the sight of a helpless child asking why he was forsaken seemed to have been overlooked as though his tears bore no weight? Is it all because his torment is part of God’s plan?

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Still, it is impossible to raise objections against God; what right do I—a mere human being—have to rectify an existence that is perfectly beyond me? God’s logic can’t ever be argued since it is “the reasoning of another world, and it’s incomprehensible to the human heart here on earth.” However—and this is the crux of this note—that same premise urges me to rebel because God’s otherworldly reasoning does not apply to the human conscience.

The crucifixion account allows us probe into the nature of absolute obedience and fear (both construed as signs of faith) and how these values cost man his humanity: when Jesus told the apostles about the prophecy, Peter rebuked him, saying that shall never happen. But Jesus said that it is all written and they should do nothing but fulfill God’s will.

But what is the cost of this faith but the death of conscience? (God’s ordering of Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Genesis 22 prefigures this.) The apostles understood it was God’s will for Jesus to die on the cross for the salvation of the world and get resurrected.

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The cross symbolizes what God has done—offering to the world “His only begotten Son” (Jn. 3:16)—in order to redeem the world from sin; the cross is also a grim reminder of the blood sacrifice: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). In the Old Testament, “spotless animals” are sacrificed in place of the sinner: this foreshadows the sacrificing of Christ, “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

In the crucifixion, we see that not a soul intervened with the authorities and the divine will to defend the innocent; not a soul revolted against the injustice, crying, “Thy will, will not be done!” There is only compromise and fear: the throwing away of conscience for the salvation of man’s soul.

Book Nook: Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning: On the “Last of the Human Freedoms”

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Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms, that is, to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

TO COMPOSE a brief synthesis of Viktor Frankl’s lucid insights on a prisoner’s self-transcendence over the inhumanity of the Holocaust is the purpose of this essay.

From 1941 until 1945, the Jews were held captive and systematically massacred in the concentration camps under the Nazi territories. The covert methods of this genocide included starvation, heavy manual labor under severe conditions, torture, hanging in the gallows, then mass murders, gas chambers, and crematoriums—methods that, by the final stages of the war, had already decimated approximately 11 million people.

Upon captivity, all possessions were taken away from the prisoners, names replaced by numbers, not a strand of hair left unshaven on their bodies. They were forced to toil like animals, despite their serious malnourishment, and slumber in abominably small bunk beds like stacks of corpses.

Nothing was left of the prisoners’ lives but their hope for liberation and their nakedness to the inevitability of death surrounding them. But amid the gamut of terrors, for three years, Frankl, who was a psychiatrist before the occupation, investigated the camp’s psychology and secretly jotted down notes on scraps of paper that served as the manuscript for his own psychotherapeutic theory: that is logotherapy (logos is Greek for meaning).

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning—an autobiography about his Holocaust experience and an introduction to the concepts of logotherapy—Frankl postulated that “the sort of person a prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, not the result of the camp influences alone.”

Numerous prisoners, after recognizing the impossibility of surviving under the camp’s environment, either ran into the electrically charged fences to commit suicide or simply awaited death to come over their beds. They found no meaning in prolonging their unjustifiable suffering.

But Frankl observed there were a few prisoners who “never lost their ideals in the depths of degradation” and possessed a humor that offered necessary self-detachment and reprieve from the conditions. They endured their suffering honorably and remained as though undaunted in the face of the camp’s thoroughly abject reality.

These odd behaviors, however small in number, Frankl concluded, suffice as proof that the “work of choosing” and the “will to meaning” become the “soul’s weapon in the fight for self-preservation.” As long as there is a deep sense of meaning that fortifies the spirit, an individual can suffer without despair and not become subject to decay.

Logotherapy presupposes that man’s inherent will to meaning and freedom of choice are the authors to his own personality: “Man is more than psyche. […] Man is a self-determining being, man decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.”

The antithesis of surrendering to the machinery of the base instincts is the discipline of making conscious decisions in each moment. Between stimulus and response is a space of freedom that is solely determined by the individual’s volition.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: February 29, 2016)

In and Out the Labyrinth of the Mind (A Personal Note on Gestalt Therapy’s Impact)

 

The most tremendous voyages are sometimes taken without moving from the spot.
—Henry Miller, The World of Sex

 

THE GESTALT MARATHON is an indoor, static marathon, with all its participants inside a large, conducive room weary and confounded from the in-depth processes, emotional exercises, experimentations, and self-encounters and discoveries yet equipped with an awareness so sharp it cuts deep through the surface of their perceived experience and evokes rich and different perspectives from within—perspectives that are at least insightful, freeing, and integrative, if not directly curative.

`           Awareness per se, by and in itself, can be curative. (Perls)

In August 2009, after two days of intensive self-awareness activities, I have stepped upon this new ground where I have made contact with myself and understood “awareness” not just in its psychical nature but also in its biological, instinctive sense (as an élan vital that encompasses not just humans but all of life). “Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in us. Everything else about us is dead machinery” (Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions).

Though abstract—and sometimes abstruse, elusive, and ineffable—awareness also seemed like a state of matter, at least to me: I have my hands on it, uncomprehendingly feeling its fluctuations, its rising and falling (a lifeline), and its pulsing, as though a heart, from the deepest trenches of my skull-sized ocean.

Franz Kafka spoke of literature “as an axe with which we chop at the frozen seas inside us.” The same thing can be said of the Gestalt marathon. With all the compression and pressure already inside the participants—their lifelong suppressed issues and traumas remaining incessantly percussive via neuroses—the release is akin to an eruption of a dormant volcano that has long forgotten about its own existence but suddenly awakens from this amnesia of living.

The Gestalt marathon offered me a chance to let my deep-seated feelings burst and tear down my prison and chains, albeit not permanently. When I found out that, by theory and experience, there’s a rhythmic relationship (contact and withdrawal) even to such things like freedom and captivity, I started building another prison, this time, of my own choosing: it is an inner world where I can give my thoughts free rein without extrinsic influences and only led by pure impulses bubbling from the well that is my soul (my organism). I believe that opposites complement one another, as in the principles of Taoism of light and darkness. Truth is that nature is cyclic, inevitable, and necessary.

The walls of this prison mirror my solitude, but this voyage of the mind arrives at a fecundity of potentials that is seeking to be drawn into life and to participate in reality. It’s like slipping into a dream and waking up with Samuel Coleridge’s flower in hand.

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then? (Coleridge)

Conversely (this time, the flower is from the outside), at moments of selfless subjectivity, which I soon learn from Gestalt therapy, I take note of how an external stimulus passes “through my senses and into my mind” and watch the whole course of this awareness continuum bifurcating through the labyrinth, along with its curious loops and random turns and associations. This is why time passes inside the mind differently (in our heads lies a “battleground of invisible forces”).

We are aware of the age-old adage of the “mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” The mind is the center where we process what our senses gathered. The Gestalt marathon freed my mind—and thus freed me from it—and attuned me well with my senses. An awareness that is not just run by the brain but also by the pleading of the guts has been born. (The finish line of the marathon is integration: the mind-and-body split made whole.)

The “frozen seas” are chopped down; the seas become an ocean. My awareness circles above like a bird. But all of life follows the rhythm of life. Parts of my ocean will, in its own time, freeze. However, that’s not a bad thing; it has to happen so I can rest on top the labyrinths.

Koryu, look. The birds are going back north.
I wonder who said that birds are free?
Though they fly in the sky freely,
If they had no place to arrive or branches to rest on,
They might even regret having wings.
What is true freedom?
It is, perhaps, having a place to go back to. (Koumyou Sanzo)