Isn't Everything Absurd, or Life Is Not a Laughing Matter — or Is It?

By John Llewellyn

Being an attempt to express in words a foolhardy desire to define the indefinable

Any one of you who has once felt the touch of the god within never is the same again. Never can be the same again. Your life is changed; and you can have this awakening at any moment, any moment that you will take it. — G. de Purucker

This morning as I walked to work rather leisurely, because it was such a beautiful day, I was suddenly struck by the overwhelming absurdity of everything. I don't want you to think that I am adopting a superior attitude in saying this because, as the feeling swept over me, I laughed out loud; not so loud that others might have been discomfited, but loud enough for one or two to turn in my direction and smile with curiosity. The thought was a momentary one, but lasted long enough for me to recognize that this change of attitude allowed me to participate, temporarily at least, in the ambience of a moment's reality, more beautiful, and with a certitude more authentic, than the combined hours of months.

Such moments are notoriously difficult to describe. They have a tenuous quality, rather like a dream in which one floats rather than walks. This imperceptible shift from one state to another is too convincing to be shrugged off as a mere aberration of the mind, because the overwhelming effect is such that, during that moment, one is transformed in the twinkling of an eye from a heavy-footed person with unbearable intimations of mortality of cruciform proportions to a being bathed in light and wholly exempt from the so-called blunders of human existence, so well known that they need no description.

My laughter was, I suppose, a reflex action, and yet, as one who seldom laughs, I recognized that its spontaneity owed its existence to the sudden realization of my human predicament. It was then that I understood the absurdity of my situation and by implication the absurdity of everything including myself. It is no exaggeration to say that much that I have hitherto regarded as serious and important is now seen as inconsequential trifles. Returning to my normal frame of reference was rather like penetrating a gigantic, sticky membrane, weblike, in which I was engulfed and hopelessly entangled, and which embraced the whole of history's crimes.

The impression of that fleeting moment lingers in my mind like the taste of buttermilk. Childlike I had participated in the cosmic dance of which I had been ignorant. During that felicitous moment my identity was not destroyed, but redefined in a manner which swept aside all the usual and false assumptions of happiness. The horror of a dualistic universe which haunts the world ceased with the finality of a grin on a decomposing corpse. It was a moment of plenitude in which neither sin nor forgiveness entered, and conceptions of perfection were superfluous. The myth of "becoming" was shattered by the authenticity of "being." Old age is upon me, but the cataracts in my eyes now seem irrelevant.

The motorway conveyor belt of cars is destined for the scrap heap, and now as I watch them from my window, I laugh again at the absurdity of everything, but brace myself for the sadness which will sweep over me when the amnesia of habit renders me blind again.

I wonder, what it was that produced that laugh which allowed me to grasp the absurdity of everything. That phrase, "the absurdity of everything," is not at all inappropriate, although it has a harsh and superficial sound; but the laugh which accompanied it had no malice behind it. It was as though the unbelievable had become true, and it was absurd to imagine otherwise. It was like a child in a friendly game, feigning death, and his father is alarmed until the child leaps into life and cries out, "I am not dead after all."

Later in the day I searched the terrain for clues. Retracing my steps, I faithfully repeated my long journey from the absurd to the absurd. The speckled shadows of the trees had gone, so too had the blackbird who had watched me with cautious concern. I shall try again tomorrow, before the air is stale, but I have the feeling that it is a form of sacrilege to try. I do not require the strength of Hercules or the patience of Job. Neither is it a question of cunning or skill. Perhaps it has something to do with tension. Who knows? Was it the tension of the archer's bow as the arrow flew? Too often we miss the target; but occasionally it flies true and, marvel of marvels, pierces the invisible bull's eye in another dimension.

This is the time of the Kali Yuga, the Iron Age, rigid, difficult and materialistic, when development can be accelerated, when truth can be born from sufferings. So be it. Tonight I shall watch the news on TV as usual. The strident music of its introduction swiftly puts me into my customary state of alarm and apprehension at the world's goings on. There is nothing like a procession of politicians with their lugubrious expressions of imminent doom to support one's conviction that this place is a cosmic lunatic asylum; and yet it will not be quite the same again. The colored shapes on the screen look real enough, and the harvest of man's inhumanity is not diminished; but I wonder now if it is but a question of perception. Once I perceived the "real" — not the real world of politics and commerce, that wretched conspiracy of greed and power which has corrupted the "real" since Cain.

With that perception, it occurred to me that the certitude which entered me, brief though it was, reminded me of distant childhood in which innocence and wisdom are miraculously married to the beauty and perfection of the present moment, the "now" of the ineffable, in which the redemption of all things is made plain. It was a transitory moment when I forgot to gaze into my personal world-distorting mirror; when the usual caricature of life I thought I knew so well, ceased to torment me. I suppose that is why I laughed; the very idea of what passes for reality, virtual or otherwise, was too absurd for words. This burst of sudden laughter was the laughter of the gods perhaps, that man should doubt his true origins, even though he be bathed in light.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Theosophical University Press.)

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