Saturday, September 21, 2013

Reality and Dreams

"Man uses his ideas for the defense of his existence, to frighten away reality."
-Ernest Becker

Prepare for rambling that may or may not make sense.

I came across this quote tonight, and it sent me thinking. One reason, I think, that the potential purposelessness of existence is so potent in my mind is because I was raised to believe that I had all the answers to the problem of living. I knew why I was here. I knew where I came from. I knew where I was going after I died. And so to question all of that leaves me staring at the terrifying emptiness of reality without the power of those ideas to mitigate the impact.

I also came across a poem tonight that I wrote in my junior year of high school.

Reality and Dreams

Majestic, tall, and grand they stand,
The mountains of my dreams,
Leaving realness, all that's bland
And all that simple seems

And in their stead, when I awake
Within my soul I see
That I can more than realness make
And more than realness be

Yet I shall never walk their slopes
While in this life I dwell,
For they are merely visions, hopes
As passions rise and swell.

Juxtaposed eternally, reality and dreams
One condemned to nothingness, one simply what it seems.

After thinking about the quote and the poem, I have some questions. Do our ideas about life really stand as a barrier between our consciousness and the recognition of reality as it truly is? I think the answer to that one is yes, because our ideas, however close to reality they may be, are ultimately our own constructions. Another question: if the juxtaposition of reality and dreams illuminates both the nothingness of dreams and the failure of life to live up to what we would like it to be, then would our purposes be served better by the elimination of dreams and expectations? Sometimes I think yes, and sometimes I think no.

I think yes because desire is the root of pain. The more I dream, the less satisfied I am with what is. But on the other hand, when I awake from dreams, "within my soul I see/ That I can more than realness make/ And more than realness be." Dreams often inspire me and give my interactions with reality a deeper meaning--because it feels as if my daily living is moving towards something.

But what if the something is a lie? What if there are no destinations to be reached? What if dreams never really come true because dreams are accompanied by emotions that never actualize and hopes for things that are impossible: namely a hope for the cessation of the struggle with the nothing at the heart of existence. When we achieve our dreams, there's an edge of disappointment because the nothing is still there. The most euphoric events of life are tempered by the fact that we still have to use the toilet. Our finiteness is manifest in each of our encounters with our own feces. That's perhaps one of the reasons we do everything we can to separate ourselves from the process--with porcelain thrones filled with water.

The human is such a paradoxical being. We understand our lives through symbols. We take a jumble of sounds, call it a name, and give it to ourselves to represent the narrative we make of who we are. We understand our world via words and ideas. And ideas can't be soiled by dirt. And idea can't break a bone. And we are ideas. "Josh DeFriez" is an idea. But also a body. A body that has to consume and expel and breathe. A body that gets sick. A body that dies. Ideas don't exist in the real world. They're dreams we make up to explain the world around us. And so it is that the human is both reality and dreams.

Maybe that's why Jesus resonates with me so much. He was the God that was human. Muslims I talked to as a missionary always had such a problem with the fact that Jesus was God but had a body. How on earth could God belittle himself to the level that he, too, had to pee? Maybe that's why I love him. Because he embodies the idea that God encompasses both of my realities--the one in my dreams and the one on the toilet. He is there for both my encounter with the infinity of the stars and the finiteness of my sickness and death.

And in Jesus there are two triumphs. The triumph of reality over dreams in the crucifixion, and the triumph of dreams over reality in the resurrection. It's fascinating. The ideas of sin and death are tied up with our corporal being, while eternal life and salvation are tied to our dreams. We utilize the ideas of salvation and eternal life to mitigate our interaction with our finiteness. And in Christ, both sides win.

This teaches us, I think, something deeply important about living. We cannot escape reality. And we cannot escape our need to escape reality. Humans are deeply complex and paradoxical, and so, perhaps, is the God that made them.

And so I think in order find meaning in life we have to recognize the intertwined nature of meaning and meaninglessness. The two, I think, are constructed of each other. Joy and despair, euphoria and feces, destruction and creation: each is made up of the other. Our dreams are constructed from our reality. We construct our reality from our dreams. Each plays an integral role in our lives, but neither makes up the whole of it.

And I think being and nonbeing are made of each other too. Each of us must reconcile ourselves to meaninglessness in order to find meaning because the one enables the other. In order to truly be as we ought, we must reconcile ourselves to the nothingness at the core of being. I find it a potent symbol that in order to ascend to heaven Jesus did just this--embraced both being and nothingness, embraced both reality and dreams. Perhaps he is only able to say "I am that I am" because he has wholly embraced exactly what it is to cease from being.


  1. "When we achieve our dreams, there's an edge of disappointment because the nothing is still there." Nice!

  2. Oh my goodness, your "rambling[s] that may or may not make sense" are treasures!

    I love your conception of Jesus here, and it's expressed beautifully.

    In other news, on some other blog--I forget the name but it's the one you read in full last night and this morning--you made a comment that I noted could easily be made into another blog post, and then I realized that you will probably not see that comment and so am mentioning it here.

    1. Thanks for not remembering my blog name, Trev! :P

  3. I saw that, and I think I will rework that comment into a blog post.

  4. I love when poop waxes philosophical! I have only one guess where you were when this thought struck you!

    You do present some pretty impressive existential ramblings here, Josh. I hope, as I struggle with the nothingness that is this existence without the Plan of Happiness I've always relied on to keep my universe in balance, that I can come to as eloquent and sound conclusions as you have here!