against transcendence

I made bread yesterday. The simplest of activities, really just a few spurts of activity to mark intervals of waiting. Something to expand and fill the void I have to stop ignoring. Whether the void opened when I lost my Christian faith, or whether it opened when I lost my childhood's sensual attention, it's hard to say. At times, these things I've lost seem like one and the same thing.

I do know that my week in Salt Spring--a week of smells (lilac, seaweed, dog, cedar, roasting chicken, Dylan's hair), of building fires, of walking in the forest, sleeping deeply, watching basketball every night, revising the same poem every day--had me feeling more human, less digital node. 

And I guess becoming more human is an exercise in "spirituality".  A misleading word, implying a desire for transcendence. As far as I'm concerned, transcendence is the problem. Technology has allowed us to transcend almost everything--every physical need, every earthly measure of distance, most human conceptions of time. In our digital transcendence there is no place for the limitations of the body, the frisson between body and mind, the painful conjugation of the two that we have tended to call the soul. 

There is, increasingly, no proper place for anything. Almost all context is lost. And I think it is in the acknowledgement of context (as it shifts, as it remains constant) that "spirituality" lies. (If you use a better word, please let me know. Perhaps we can say "the sacred" instead.)

What is sacred about food? Knowing who tended the plants, the country where it grew, the plants and animals it was symbiotic with, the degree of relation to poisonous life forms, how long it took to become food and in how many steps, how your body reacts to it, the family or national or literary history of a recipe, the heirloom that is the serving dish, the medicinal properties of the herbs that have been used as flavouring--and on and on.

What is sacred about a book? The smell of the paper. The work's history of censorship or translation, how it got to you to read in the Twenty-first Century. Your aunt's name on the flyleaf in cursive, the girl you love who told you to read it, the author you love who quotes from this book--and on and on. 

Being able to shift and extend context is what we call magic. We also call it metaphor. A Google search has no context apart from the algorithms attached to it (and you). The personal is homogenized with the universal. Despite our furious hyperlinking, there is no wholeness of parts. Those algorithms exclude whole corners of the world, creating islands of people, islands of information, cut loose like mangroves on the ocean. 

(I just finished Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez, so I have mangroves on my mind.)

Most people seem to have developed little practices to save themselves from the tyranny of techo-capitalism. They walk their dogs, or learn to make sushi from scratch, or go hiking in the mountains or drive the highways at night. Sometimes I am really amazed at people's ability to quietly survive.