As I sit on this flight to Oskemen, Kazakhstan, I cannot help but meditate. Almost no Kazakh knows of Nashville; almost no American knows of Oskemen. Wherever we are is whatever we know. Our orientation is everything.
Without orientation, there would be neither time nor space, neither difference nor boundary: only a vast oneness of being, so abstract that it is, essentially, meaningless. There would be no meaning. There would be nothing at all.
Imagine yourself submerged in infinitely dark waters.
No light and no air, no sight and no gravity. Which way is the surface, which way is the ocean floor? Your consciousness demands an orientation. Yet here, there is no up, no down, nothing relative to anything else. There is only one entity, water: inconceivable and non-conceptual, overwhelming and unknowable.
But to imagine a sky above, or a bedrock below? To imagine the warmth of sunlight, or the cold sting of its absence — to feel the psychokinetic pull of a planetary mass, or the weightlessness of a space without it? This is to conceive of difference within unity, through direction, through relativity.
An empty sky is nothing — but a sky filled with starlight? That 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 begin to see ourselves as somewhere and something, and not something else.
Such orientation is necessary, perhaps even the very foundation of consciousness. We live only by and through it. Without it, we still may be — 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 light, at different times, in a universe of endless suns and infinite darkness. Each has its own own alignment, each its own orientation.
I am now traveling by plane across the earth, accomplishing what for nearly all of history has been impossible (if not across multiple generations of innumerable lifetimes). I am entering a portal to another place and time. My watch appears to be broken.
All life here was once autochthonous — originating from its own 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.
But now, I am half a world away from home. What if I were on another planet? Another solar system? A new galaxy, a universe, or alternate dimension? A parallel plane of existence, or entirely distinct reality?! If then, what then would be my life…?
We take the orientation of our lives for granted, as we do the entirety of our enterprises — from tritest etiquette to truest enlightenment, from the language we use to the concepts it tries to contain.
Almost no Kazakh knows of Nashville; almost no American knows of Oskemen. To each other, do we even exist…? Yet even if we have never seen each other, we can still conceive of each other.
Imagine orienting yourself to concept not yet created: a thought that “exists” in thought only! As you wonder, know that your ancestors have already done it, countless times. They saw sunlight and conceived of a god. They saw movement and conceived of orbit.
They saw more light, and declared a star. And one of many, a north star.
A god, a star, a north star… we may declare anything at all. We orient ourselves to the ideas we create, and — once oriented — forget that these are merely ideas.
Whether they correspond to reality does not matter; once conceived of, an idea becomes real. Our conception becomes our orientation.
After rejecting all possible beliefs in his Meditations, Descartes declared that *at least* HE existed — insomuch as he was a thinking thing. An interesting concept… he could just have easily claimed that a THOUGHT exists. And that he was nothing at all.
That conscious thought creates the self, just as the astronomer declares one star and one direction “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 to it. What is gravity, if not the ultimate orientation…?
Even so, through our technology we have left the earth and defied gravity itself. In this fleeting moment, I am soaring through the air (and soaring through the cosmos). I am surrounded by souls I could have easily never met. I cannot even communicate with them, for our we have oriented our thoughts to different languages.
We can travel, uproot and replant, wander and return or become lost forever. We can create our own guiding stars, our own gods. We can tether, and break the tether.
We orient ourselves. We always have. We always will.
Josh, Joe here, Remember, a few years ago, when I shared my DNA results with you and your dad. You may be connected to the people you are making friends with more then your Polish last name would indicate. You are one lucky man.