LIGHT PHILOSOPHY IN PALM SPRINGS, CA

(Liya Rechtman)– I find myself chasing sunset, washing away my days with caffeine and visine, pushing my tick against sleep, docking off heartbeats with upbeats of stimulants, churning into a homework induced, stress induced glaze like a mother fucking vegetable stewing in a pot of decomposing ideas.

That’s not how I want to live, is it? I want to sit and ponder, wander over the waves of possible futures, give myself a second to pray in the sun in the midday like people used to pray. And nap. I want a fucking nap once in awhile, and not a power nap either, but a powerless nap, where I wake up to lie in bed a few more hours. I don’t want to have sex, either, but just to exist in the presence of absence.’

This is the desert. I am “alone but not lonely” for a little while. This is Palm Springs, a glorified strip mall in the desert for the rich, dead, gay refugees from LA.

I looked forward all semester to touching down for half a week in this place that I have never been before. It seemed like the perfect moment in between semesters. Poolside, I have let my brain drip out into melted puddles of lethargy. I have been watching my skin change colors from sunscreen-less, cancer-filled hours turning over on one of those sticky white plastic chairs. The question becomes, then, am I here out of a desire for emptiness, lightness, or escape?

Emptiness is a concept in the The Buddhist tradition. This is the Buddhist philosophical middle ground in attaining transcendence between the nihilistic absolute (nothingness) and the theistic ideal (the eternal quality of Judeo-Christian deities, for instance). In Buddhist practice, followers hope to attain this emptiness, this detachment from all things, including the concept of detachment itself, hence the emptiness. This emptiness leads the Buddhist on the path towards the cessation of suffering and subsequently nirvana.

Lightness is an existential concept derived by Nietzsche. All things occur cyclically – therefore there is a heaviness to all of our actions. Milan Kundera took this idea and inverted it in the Unbearable Lightness of Being. If constant repetitive existence were heaviness and weight, than a singular existence would be the greatest lightness. He writes that “[l]ife which disappears once and for all, which does not return without weight…and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime…means nothing.” This nothing (nihilism) is the lightness of life. If nothing matters, then we don’t have a goal, an objective in living. The burden of making the right choices is lifted off our shoulders and we can spend the whole rest of our lives gorging on fully-fattening ice cream with all the toppings.


Escapism is that urban-born desire to flee to the countryside in the summer, when shit hits the fan. Escapism is immersing yourself in Harry Potter fan fiction so you can ignore the onslaught of puberty, in all her awkward splendor, or logging off Facebook for a week when cant stand seeing your exes’ status updates anymore. It is attachment to detachment and the flight drive in your central nervous system.

I don’t take vacations very often. Sure, I travel a lot, but it’s always either for work or to see family. This kind of trip is anomalous; normally, not having anything I absolutely MUST do for a full 10 hours drives me crazy. So why this? What am I doing in the middle of the desert instead of are spending winter break with my high school friends who are swimming in Brooklyn-nostalgia, or my Amherst friends gearing up for over-ambitious interterm plans?

Is this really simple escapism? That would be the easy answer: “I just needed to get away.” But that doesn’t seem fair. I am too happy now in both Brooklyn and Amherst to feel very fulfilled by a stint away. I’m in one of those infrequent interludes where I actually like most, if not all, of my friends.

It also doesn’t seem that I am detaching, or experiencing anything on a higher plane. I certainly haven’t meditated… the cessation of suffering? Nirvana? No, I am not emptying in the Buddhist sense at all. In fact more in line with my Jewish values, I am filling myself. My observance of Judaism is all about charging oneself up with life, becoming attached to people and Torah, which is directly antithetical to Buddhist philosophy.

I think I am playing with lightness.

There is something to be said for the stillness that comes with recognizing that I only get to do this once. I am small and the desert mountains are much larger. I feel, for a moment, that I am of this land. I was born in the dust and I will return to the dust. When I sleep, I sleep in the dust and when I wake, I wake in the dust. We spend all this time chasing sunset, getting past them. Today, here, I know that we only have a finite number of sunrises. This is not just a hotel at all, but a holy place. This is not just a pool, but a Mecca and a shrine to lightness. Here I am free to watch sunrise with the understanding that no single ray of light will ever repeat. I have the time to stare at them all day. Staring at the movements of the sun is the only thing that matters in this moment, one of a limited number of instants that will take place in my life. By that same logic, then, since the acts I can perform are so limited and have no consequence, they don’t matter at all. If I take more pleasure from staring at the sun for hours than at pushing against the stark beat of an electric, workaholic pulse, that’s acceptable. I have been walking slowly, eating fresh things, closing my eyes to feel the daylight soak into the skin of my shoulders. I have been playing with the blessing of lightness, of lines without circles. This is not escape from my mind at all, but immersion. I am beginning to understand lightness.

We spend so much time trying to hold on. Why else would the imperative to have children and create living duplications of our genetic code, be so deeply ingrained in our social contract? Why else would everyone care about being documented? We yearn to leave a legacy “behind,” and this becomes warped into a push, an unreasonable drive to be The Best. I am trying to think, these days, more about the experiences I am having, than where they will take me.

Of course, the mindset won’t last. This is just four days, in an affluent gay ghost town. I’m sure I’ll fit right back into the New England flow soon enough.

For now, to sunrise!

<3 ConstantLy