Can you understand why someone would do something as crazy as tie helium balloons to a lawn chair, to go rushing up into the sky? I do. Maybe there is an element of stupidity (sometimes quite a lot), but there is also a rebellion of the spirit, and I sympathize with that.
On the one hand I’ll always think “My God, you dumbass, don’t try to jump a moving train with a motorcycle”. I know the reality is that the frail flesh I live inside is fairly easily damaged or destroyed. And yet. . .what is this “I” that lives in there?
It feels like there is something in the body (me), and whether you call it mind/spirit/soul or nothing more than biological reactions, it’s all the same, because after the age of—I don’t know—six months, we all want what we can’t have. Why can’t I walk for hours without getting tired, or run faster than I do, or for that matter walk across water or up the side of a mountain like a lizard?
I can imagine these things. In my mind I can do them. So what’s wrong with the physical world?
Whatever lives inside my body, the mind/spirit/soul is able to experience the universe in ways that I’d like to try: no one dies, we never feel pain, we can shrink down to the size of an atom to watch electrons hum by like comets, and we can fly into the heart of stars to turn in happy harmless swirls through the red raging fusion of those gases.
Instead, we are trapped in the flesh, and by God, we don’t like it. And why is my distance vision worse than it was a year ago? One response to our insubordination to materiality, rather than looking for helium balloons and a lawn chair, is to let the spirit speak.
Last Sunday I heard a beautiful example when someone read a line describing expansiveness of spirit: “I want to billow through the door.” To billow like the sails on a ship before the wind, to move large and grand, like a force of nature—you’ve had moments when you felt that way, when your spirit touched its own grandeur.
I love such metaphors of expansion and optimism, expressions of the vastness of our spirit. I think about a famous line from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” The line is a response to the idea that he contradicts himself on occasion. Of course I contradict myself, he says, I contain many people. With that phrasing, Whitman shows an enormity of spirit and yet keeps it in human terms.
With the Billie Holiday song lyrics I used up above, the desire to exceed physical limitations is casually expressed as “Because I’m in love, I can do anything.” The same song also has the line “And I’ll move the mountains, if he wants them out of the way.” With the grandiosity of my soul when it is filled with love, what is a small physical impediment like mountains? Also taken from song lyrics, we can find an expression of enormity of feeling, in the Beatles song Across the Universe: “Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns.” With the huge panopticon of my vision, again from love, I can see the burning and flaring of a million suns.
Maybe this rebellion against the restrictions of physical existence is a major part of what makes us human, even if we often express it in stupid ways (smoking cigarettes, picking up rattlesnakes, jumping trains with motorcycles). The rebellion has also pushed us as a species, and we said “We will walk on water” and invented boats, “We will fly through the clouds” and invented airplanes, “We will go to the stars” and invented rockets.
I hope the same kind of impulse will someday push us to say “We will stop being savage, superstitious beasts and become human” and learn to celebrate the joy of life, and of one another’s lives, instead of living as we live now on this planet.
But until then, when I want to escape, I let the spirit speak.