I was cooking a Christmas dinner of a whole roast chicken with mashed potatoes and kale. I had cooked the chicken for 45 minutes on one side, then flipped it and set the timer for an hour. During that first 45, I did the mise en place for the other dishes; cut veggies, washed the kale, and peeled and cubed the potatoes. After I turned the chicken, I took a shower, putting on relaxing atmospheric music.
The shower was an intermission. You know that feeling when you’re looking at something that you’ve seen before, but this time, for whatever reason, you see it anew? The smell of the chicken, with that lovely herb butter under her skin, greeted me at the top of the stairs. I padded slowly down, holding my new laptop more and more carefully as the darkness, due to a lack of lighting in that corner, increased. For a dark second I thought how awful it would be to fall down the stairs and crush this wonderful gadget, ruining my brand new toy with desire for constant gratification. For that moment I saw myself at my most indulgent, the greedy little fucker that asks for more ice cream than he can eat, uncaring as to whether anyone else gets any. Stepping down the stairs felt like the subtle transition from regular gameplay to cutscene. I put the laptop, still bleating gentle music to focus to, on the TV tray.
I started the burners, and added oil to the saute pan. The level of caffeine in my bloodstream was that sweet spot about a half hour past the peak. All at once, but by degrees, I felt content. A deep and profound happiness emanated from inside me. The music, peaceful. The chicken, radiating warmth and comfort. Cooking is satisfying work, but this is another level of bliss I was feeling. There are some things that may have contributed to this feeling:
My family and I had had a quiet Christmas at home. At the risk of sounding materialistic, we got a lot of cool stuff. Skyping with my parents. My son made homemade books for his mom and grandma, and they both really liked them.
I have a couple days off work, and while it might be a pain in the ass, there are challenges ahead that I am kind of looking forward to. In the meantime, the break is welcome.
Last night I watched the movie Particle Fever, about the Large Hadron Collider and specifically about the Higgs Boson discovery. I had heard of CERN, and I certainly remember reading about the Higgs particle. The level of cooperation among scientists all over the world is breathtaking.
My perception is that I am alive and conscious, that I live in the developed world, that I have relative good health and a steady job, that I have people around me who love me, that I have a son. Moreover, I perceive that I am sharing a planet with people who understand the universe in ways thought to be forever locked behind the veil of mystery, and who continue to ask questions. Who knows what they will find or how it will impact our lives. Further, we lucky humans who occupy this sliver of time have orders of magnitude more access to more information than any previous generation. Access to information is the most important thing that humans have been deprived of for millenia, but they are no longer deprived. Where will we be when the generation of people who were born with Internet access reach 40?
The music, the smells, the realizations described above, all were crystallized for me in one centering moment. One sublime, never-get-it-back moment of gratitude and bliss. Happy, but not giddy. It was more content, like I knew the sound of one hand clapping. I enjoyed it for what it was, then continued cooking.
Later I thought about what was going on right then. Was I experiencing “the Christmas spirit”? Had “God” spoken to me? Had I unintentionally spoken to God? Can you even do that? It was a powerful experience that touched me in a most subtle way. I did not cry out, I was not knocked down, I was not even silently moved to tears.
As a skeptic, I believe that the chemical and emotional explanation makes sense. It certainly doesn’t explain everything, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to figure myself out. However, positing that this flash of oneness with the universe was the result of interaction with a deity begs many more questions. Do other people get these moments? If so, when? Do they happen when there aren’t wonderful smells and peaceful sounds and comforting activities around creating what amounts to statistical noise? I practice mindfulness meditation, but I haven’t regularly practiced in a while. Meditation, in my humble opinion, isn’t purposed to “give” you these peaceful grateful feelings, but those feelings being more accessible is a happy benefit. The benefits of meditation are supported by research.
Suppose there is a Creator. Something that can create everything should be able to speak to us such that we completely understand it, so that there’s no confusion. It might be impossible for communication to go from us to Him in any meaningful way, as “His ways are not our ways”, etc.
Maybe I should completely understand it. Maybe I’m grasping at straws because I don’t want to face the God that I know exists because I’m a mad-at-God atheist and I’ll come up with any explanation to avoid it. Maybe. But I don’t think that’s the case. As an isolated case, this God explanation probably feels good, especially to believers. But what happens when you apply the same deity to other situations? This is how you test an idea, by seeing if it flies in other situations than the one you started with. Take Euthyphro Dilemma for example. The more questions you ask, the more elaborate explanations have to become to keep up the God explanation. As to my above explanation, I am allowed to say “I don’t know” to questions that are beyond my understanding of consciousness.
I didn’t intend to go on an atheistic rant here, so let me dial it back a bit. As an agnostic, I maintain that it can’t be known whether there is a God or not. So there could be a deity that intervenes from time to time in human affairs. The interventions, however, appear to be nearly indistinguishable from events that occur naturally. What is one to make of that?