As I sit on this flight to Oskemen, Kazakhstan, I cannjot help but meditate. Almost no Kazakh knows of Nashville; almost no Nashvillian knows of Oskemen. Wherever we are is whatever we know. Orientation is everything.
Without orientation, there is neither time nor space, neither difference nor boundary; only a vast oneness of being, so abstract in its unfathomable infinity that it is, essentially, meaningless. There is no meaning. There is nothing at all.
Imagine yourself submerged completely in infinitely dark waters.
There is no light and no breath, no sight and no gravity. Where is the surface, where is the ocean floor? Your consciousness demands an orientation. Yet here, there is no up, no down, nothing relative to anything at all. There is only water: one entity, inconceivable and non-conceptual, as overwhelming as it is unknowable.
But to imagine a sky above, or a solid earth below? To imagine the warmth of sunlight, or the cold chill of its absence — to feel the psychokinetic pull of a planetary mass, or the weightlessness of a space without it? This is to create difference, through direction, through relativity.
An empty sky is nothing, but a sky filled with starlight? It is a map: navigation through constellation, for sailors at sea (and what else have we ever been?).
Ex nihilo, nihil fit: out of nothing, nothing comes. Yet from the concept of one comes another. Thus originates orientation: we are somewhere and something, not somewhere and something else.
Such orientation is necessary, perhaps even the very foundation of consciousness. We live only by and through it. Without it, we are — but we are nothing.
I am man, you are woman. I am American, you are Kazakh. I am Christian, or nothing; you are Muslim, or nothing. We are in heaven or hell, together or alone — we both are, yet we are not the same.
Our slices of earth revolve around the same sun, in different times, in a multiverse of endless suns and infinite darkness. To each our own alignments, to each our own orientation.
I have traveled by plane across the earth, accomplishing what for nearly all of history has been impossible (if not across multiple generations of innumerable lifetimes).
All life here was once autochthonous — originating from its environment, and beholden to it — but as we drift, we are released from the tether of our creator. As the tether breaks, our orientation is lost: we are, briefly, nothing…
Nothing, that is, until we learn that we can orientate to anything at all — from lands unseen, to concepts unformed.
I am oriented to Nashville, Tennessee, America — from Michigan, from Poland and Europe. I am pulled by friends and family. I am guided and shamed by their morality, both mired and empowered by their traditions.
Now, I am half a world away from home. What if I were on another planet? Another solar system? A galaxy, a universe, another dimension? A parallel plane of existence, or entirely distinct reality?! If then, what then would be my life…?
Almost no Kazakh knows of Nashville; almost no Nashvillian knows of Oskemen. To each other, do we even exist…?
We take the orientation of our lives for granted, as we do the entirety of our enterprises — from tritest etiquette to truest enlightenment.
And imagine orientation to concept not yet created, to a thought that “exists” in thought only! Wonder, and know that your ancestors have already done it, countless times. From earth, they once saw many lights, then stars, then a sun. One sun of many, itself still a star. Yet we declare it one and ours, with audacity — or hubris.
A sun, a north star, a star… we may declare anything at all.
It may exist, or may not exist — yet once conceived, it becomes real. And the concept becomes our orientation.
In his meditations (after rejecting all else) Descartes once declared that *at least* he existed, insomuch as he was a thinking thing. What a concept! He could just have easily claimed “there is only a thought… perhaps I am nothing at all.”
That conscious thought creates the self, just as the astronomer declares one star “north”. There are poles, and there is gravity, yes — but only because there is mass. And only because we are upon it, puled to it, beholden. What is gravity, if not orientation…?
Even so, through our technology we have left the earth and defied gravity itself. Even now, I am soaring through the air (and soaring through the cosmos). And I am speaking to you.
We can travel, uproot and replant, wander and return or become lost forever. We can create our own guiding stars, our own gods.
We orient ourselves. We always have. We always will.