I Dreamed I Was Awake

A Whole Lot of Nothing

A Whole Lot Of Nothing

Shelley's sonnet Ozymandias (see below) is a keyhole stare into the transience of everything.

Great empires, spanning centuries and continents, arching over generations of millions of people, become sandpapered by time into fragments of wall and parchment and armless headless statuary underwritten by proclamations of its subject's eternal glory.
Vain and in vain.
Of interest only to archaeologists.

And our great-grandparents, only three generations removed from us, are, to most of us, vague verging on disappearing.
But they, too, will have had their dreams, tragedies and triumphs. Some of them will have been considered by many in the community in which they lived to have been heroes, or models of kindness and self-sacrifice. Or pompous rogues, or subjects of loud condemnation.
All now sandpapered into sepia.

The now is instantly transformed into the past, and the past very rapidly becomes long ago.

As Arthur Balfour, briefly prime-minister at the start of the last century, more or less says (he is now past caring about the accuracy) 'very little matters at all, and nothing matters a lot'.

For some this all-prevailing transience can be a source of desperate alarm or depression; it can seem to be indicative of meaninglessness. Or worse, to render everything insignificant - if all is bound to fall apart and ultimately to be reabsorbed into the general hot-pot of everything, then what is the point?
Given that life is so challenging, so often given over to pain, rejection and a disappointing refusal to conform to our will, why bother, if it will all, in the end, come to dust?
But insignificance does not follow from an acceptance of the transient nature of existence. The signs are everywhere. We just need to be open to them, and to be willing to ask 'what do they signify?', and the start of this openness to significance is a letting go of all that is transient. An acceptance of life on life's terms. A willingness to cease trying to exercise control, attempting to impose significance on the passing experience of life.

Significance and meaning are not ours to bestow.This 'emptying', abandon of self-will (ego), and attachment to 'nothingness' is not at all easy, even supposing we are very willing. In fact it is impossibly difficult. Our mind resists the fear that follows when we slip our moorings. We may have commitment and patience and perseverance, but this detachment, as a sustained approach seems beyond us. Our mind will continually draw us back to the script of whatever fictional narrative of life we are currently performers in.

But 'say not the struggle naught availeth' as another Arthur - AH Clough - would write in a poem (below) some twenty years or so after Shelley's 'Ozymandias'.

If we diligently and humbly and obediently strive, small step after small step, to refuse the fare that our mind offers us, full of ambitions and resentments and fear and indignation - 'a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing' - and seek the openness of uncertainty, we may yet, just occasionally, perhaps only for a few seconds, often in the least propitious circumstances, find ourselves standing in the Light...a beam of that which is eternal and infinite blazing its way through the intellectual and emotional clouds of our internal meteorology.

And we find, just in that brief moment, that the illusion of a universe outside us is shattered.
In that moment of awe, epiphany and redemption we know, in our deepest ontology, that we are an absolute part of a universe more infinite, eternal and strange than we can possibly even imagine, let alone know!
We are dissolved in the Universe.
It is the solution.

We are tinier than we can conceive. Our lives briefer than a pulse of sound.
And yet, in us, in that moment of fertile uncertainty, however imperfectly, the Universe is conscious of itself in us.

And I ask you to pause for a few abandoned moments to consider that.

The milling of time and gravity grinds down all the sharp edges, the peaks and the troughs of history and physics.
Into nothing.
But then, nothing matters. A lot.

Darris Golinski

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.

A.H. Clough
Their depiction of the animals on whom these hunting communities were entirely dependent has a numinous quality; intent as they were on the acquisition of the Four Fs* - the ferocity of the hunters was tempered by a manifest tenderness towards and affinity with the beasts they were obliged to kill.

*Feeding, fighting, fleeing and fucking - the functions of the hypothalamus, the 'reptilian', earliest in evolutionary terms, part of the brain.