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A nocturnal adventure

The weather forecast said that after this weekend the temperatures are likely to drop below freezing. So I decided to go for one last rowing trip. On Friday morning I packed most of the stuff I'd need for a night trip. When I returned back at home after work it was 8.30 pm. After some preparations I left to the lake at 10pm. The sky was overcast and it was pretty dark. A little moonlight would've been of great help. But instead there was this dim glow of clouds reflecting the streetlights of the village centre some 10km away. Enough light to tell where the road was, so I made it safely to my boat. I turned on a led light to make sure everything was fine. Soon I was rowing out to the lake and switched the light off.

The day had been windy, and the wind showed no signs of calming down. It felt like the wind was coming from the West, and I was heading to the South-West. Oh how do I love this feeling when a bigger wave lifts up the prow of the boat, and when the wave passes the prow comes down hitting the next wave with a big splash. Somehow, for me, that sound and feeling is a clear symbol of being a bit outside the man-made world, out in the wild where I need to negotiate with the untamed forces of nature. At this time of the year the water is already so cold that I could swim for fifteen minutes of so before passing out because of hypothermia. That wouldn't be enough to reach any house, so better stay in the boat and row safely. As I was rowing farther I could count lights of five houses, scattered on different shores around the wide open lake. (I know there are more houses there, but they aren't exactly next to the lake so their lights weren't visible.) Still no moonlight, but barely enough light to navigate.

I found my way to an island which has an ancient burial site. As I stood on the shore of the island I couldn't see my feet. But both the sky and the water were slightly less dark than the landscape, so I could see the dark silhouettes of trees against the slightly-less-dark sky. I went looking for the burial site - I remember it is near a rocky cape pointing to the West, under a group of old pine trees. As I was approaching the approximate location I thought to myself that if this was a movie or a computer game there sure would be a ghostly glow of blue light to mark the place where the spirits dwell. But this is 21st century plain ordinary reality; no supernatural visual effects. Because I couldn't see that much I went crawling on all four, feeling the soil with my hands as I went on. Here and there lichenous rocks appeared as not-totally-dark spots. After a while I found the place - a modest heap of stones. In the bright daylight one can tell that the heap is not naturally formed but that the stones have been placed there by human hands. In the dark I just knew that this is the right spot, for I've been visiting the site so many times over the years.

I had brought a flask of Finnish Vodka. I greeted the spirits of the ancestors, opened the flask and poured a little of booze on the burial site. I took a sip myself. And offered another go for the spirits, taking also a sip myself. I repeated this little ritual until the bottle was emptied. I was not expecting any spesific response, not any supernatural encounter. But all the time I could feel the wind on my face - and it came to my mind that in so many spiritual, religious and mystic traditions devotees are seeking and longing for any kind of direct contact with The Absolute, The Deity, The God - you name it. Since my teenage years I've felt that to be touched by the wind is to be touched by The God. For me the wind is not any external expression of some Supernatural Transcendental Deity. The way I see it, The God is all that exists. I'm not that interested if there is some non-material Creator which sits in some heavenly distance watching the creatures busying around with their petty lives. Maybe there is such a being or not, that is none of my business. As, for me, it anyway is so that Nature - The Universe, All-That-Exists, is omni-present, source-of-it-all, beautiful and meaningful-in-itself and doesn't need any external force to justify the existence of that-which-exists. I'm not sure why, but in so many spiritual traditions the mundane material world is seen as somehow inferior, sad an devoid of meaning - so that glory and divine meaning is to be sought in the non-material otherworld. Well, who am I to judge if someone feels a need to do so. Sometimes a classical metaphysical question has been phrased as "why is there something rather than nothing?" I don't know but personally I don't need any further answer than "well, existence is beautiful, so that is a reason enough to exists. What-exists exists in a beautiful way, and that beauty does not need to serve any further purpose, for me it is a value in itself." So, the wind, the calm, the light and the dark, trees, germs, insects, islands and distant stars are of Divine Beauty, and we are constantly in direct contact with it. And we are constantly it, for we exists, too - so a human being is a seamless part of All-That-Which-Exists. Well, now one could ask that if All-Is-One-and-One-Is-All, then what difference does it make if I'm sitting comfortably inside my cabin or wandering out to the ancient burial site? If I believe The God to be equally in Everything, then sure The Divine is not only in pines and rocky capes but also in desks and tables, laptops and keyboards? I'm not going to deny that, but the thing is that a human mind tends to be so occupied by all the practical stuff of daily life that we don't always remember how it feels to be in Direct Contact with The Transcendetal Absolute. Sometimes it helps to crawl alone in nocturnal forest, looking for a place where some unknown people buried their dead maybe 5000 years ago. A ritual to help the mind calm down, to come back to more direct contact with all the senses - feeling the lichenous rocks, sniffing the wind, listening to waves splash on the shoreline.

After the ritual I went back to the boat. It was relatively easy to find the shore, but I couldn't see the boat for it was too dark. I could hear the sound of small waves washing the hull fo the boat, so I slowly walked towards the sound until I could see the dark silhouette of the boat. I went rowing to the nearby tiny islet which doesn't have any summer cottages on it. I made it safely to the islet, tied the boat to a tree and went on looking for a place to sleep at. I placed a camping mattress on the moss under a pine tree. I wore a winter overall and slipped into a sleeping bag. It was dark, and I was listening to the majestetic sound of wind humming all around me. I fell asleep.

In the morning I started a fire, cooked coffee and prepared a breakfast. All the clouds were gone, the sky was clear. I enjoyed the bright shine of the sunrise, slowly sipping black coffee. After the breakfast I packed my stuff and rowed back to the shore near my home. I took the boat to dry land and turned it upside down, as that is how we store them for the winter.

I've been thinking about this human desire for contact with Something Greater. Some people are interested in receiving divine messages like "Quit smoking and move to Auberge", hoping that their lives would be great and succesfull when they can follow supernatural guidance. I have nothing against that, but I'm not personally interested in such stuff. I'm an agnostic, for I think All-That-Exists is probably always more complex than finite human cognition can comprehend, so it would be stupid for me to claim to know where the boundaries of Possible lie. It is just that personally I've been satisfied with the insight that "Everything is Beautiful, you too, so live it true!", and all so often mundane little events appear as awesome and great, so I have no desire for some supernatural forces to make the mundane even-more-awesome-than-it-already-has-been. Hehe, these things they are strange =) I recently listened a radio program (sorry, it is in Finnish) about Friedrich Jürgenson who claimed to be recording voices of the spirits of deceased people. They even arranged a controlled experiment with professional sound-engineers monitoring the recording, making sure that the tape is not a hoax. They got some messages recorded. One of the engineers involved in the experiment philosophized that most likely the sounds caught on the tape are not produced by immaterial spirits, but rather by the brainwaves of Jürgenson himself - that maybe there is some natural phenomena not yet discovered by human science, which would allow the sub-conscious wishes and hopes and thoughts of a strong-willed person to somehow affect the tiny magnetic particles on a reel, producing audible messages. An interesting theory - which leads me to a movie we recently watched with friends. Solaris, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. If you haven't seen it and want to avoid spoilers, then skip directly to the pictures below.

Mankind has also been seeking some kind of contact with extraterrestrial life-forms, hoping to find another intelligent civilization to discuss with. But - using the language of 20th century Analytic Philosophy - what if that alien intelligence would think and communicate in such a language which will not translate to our language? In that case, could we even recognize it as a language? Or would the thoughts and actions of those aliens appear as non-intelligent to us? (And, in case we find a translation, then doesn't that mean that the alien language wasn't that alien after all, so that we only manage to make contact with beings which are like us.) Well, Solaris is originally a novel by Stanislaw Lem, and I remember reading the book nearly 30 years ago - I liked it a lot, although can't remember that much of the details. But my impression is that the book deals with this kind of philosophical themes; can we comprehend an intelligence which is Something Other than our own intelligence? Tarkovsky's movie takes a bit more existential approach, and I love the way the story gets told in a subtle way. For example, in the earlier part of the film we are casually shown a few children accompanying adults. The children have not seen each other before, and while the adults speak their adult stuff in the background we see how the kids quickly make friends and play together. The adults end up disagreeing, a friendship of twenty years is declared to be finished, and one of the adults leaves with his kid. Later on we see that adult sitting in a car, staring voidly into the distance, while the kid gently leans his head on the shoulder of the adult. All this is surrounded by atmospheric pictures of idyllic countryside and then a busy crowded megacity. All in all, this made me think how kids often are open and quickly make contact with each other - but adults, even when they speak the exact same language, often end up misunderstanding each other, cutting ties and withdrawing into non-communication. Why is that? The movie doesn't provide an answer, but it made me think about the theme. Later on our hero arrives at a space station exploring a planet Solaris which probably hosts alien intelligence - but that intelligence appears as incomprehesible to human scientists. (Probably, the alien intelligence - The Solaris itself - equally has trouble trying to make sense of the human behaviour.)

Well, I assume it is Solaris attempting to communicate with humans by presenting them physical replications of their subconscious memories, fears, hopes and suppressed thoughts. (A bit like that sound enginer theoretized that maybe Friedrich Jürgenson is affecting the physical reels by his brainwaves or some other form of energy emitted by strong subconsious mental processes.) The character of Hari is not only a visual copy of the late wife of our male hero Kris. But Solaris has also replicated key elements of Hari's personality - Hari is suicidal, and we are told that the wife of Kris had commited suicide. So, in an attempt to communicate with humans the Solaris creates a replica of a human being who prefers to commit suicide instead of living with a feeling of not-being-loved-enough - due to lack of deep emotional contact, that is. We are shown how the remaining crew of three professionals on the space station end up quarreling and fighting when their intention was to have a merry birthday party. I mean - how could an alien intelligence possibly communicate with such a species which appears to be so poor in maintaining a contact and communication? Even when human beings speak the same language, even when they are of same family, they often seem to feel that they are not loved, the core of their soul is not seen nor embraced by the others. No matter how badly the mankind has treated The Earth, in the cold artificial isolation of a space station they end up taping cut paper next to a ventilation shaft, so that the paper would make a sound which resembles tree leaves humming in the wind. A sign of homesickness? Longing to be in contact with all the greenery and life of The Earth? The movie doesn't directly say this, but I couldn't help thinking; "What if Planet Earth, as a whole, is a single big living being? Possibly sentient, probably intelligent - and if so, maybe a lot more intelligent than we can imagine. What if The Earth is constantly communicating with us, but we just fail to see it for we have limited our minds to the human ideas of language and communication? What if the wind touching your face is The Earth speaking directly to you, but you just ignore it because you are too busy with More Important Stuff like Work, Career, Reputation, Politics, or what ever is that stuff which constantly seems to keep adult human beings so busy that they don't have that much time to pay attention to their loved ones, their children, their family members?". The movie shows how Kris, given the opportunity to reunite with his late wife, finally decides to postpone work and to give more attention to maintaining the relationship. The other crew members scorn him for that, saying "Don't turn this into a common love story!". And that, I'd guess, is one of the defining moments of the movie. For we see a crew tasked with trying to comprehend an alien form of live - given that objective, what could be more appropriate and more meaningful than 'a common love story', especially when it clearly is a love story between a human scientist and a form created by the alien intelligence? If decades of cold analytical scientific work had yielded no results, then why not give love a chance? Thinking of it, if a contact, communication and comprehension is not based on love, then what could it be based on? Okay, I know this is vague because people can mean so different things by the word 'love'. Here I mean something along the lines of being willing to accept other, looking to maintain and to deepen a sense of belonging, being willing to respect each other.

Waking up ...
Waking up ...
... under a pine tree.
... under a pine tree.
Coffee at sunrise.
Coffee at sunrise.
Rowing home.
Rowing home.
286 users have voted.


Wonderful to read, as always. Thanks for your musings and insights.

Always wonderful and magical to read you and your experiences as a real free man. Great read. Thanks Erkka!


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