As is usually my habit, I will use a daylog to talk about thoughts of mine that borrow from concepts I don't truly understand, and do so with a great deal of conjecture. Recently, as I have time after time, I have been thinking of Martin Heidegger, a philosopher whose work I mostly know through brief selections, and other people's commentaries on them. From what I have learned, though, I find Heidegger's work fascinating, and also applicable to my life. This is something that perhaps separates those who get into philosophy from those who do not. Heidegger's idiosyncratic and seemingly overly-abstract writing could seem totally pointless to many, but once his concepts are connected to my reality, they seem very relevant.
One of Heidegger's basic concept is that Being and Existence are separate things. "Being" is the mysterious quality that all entities share, while "Existence", as derived from the first two syllables say, means "Ex" and "Is"-- to stand up, and rise against, go outside of, the general Being that surrounds us. Today, I went on a bicycle ride along a service road along an irrigation canal, high on a hillside. I reached a point high in the hills, where the irrigation canal disappeared into a tunnel, and I had a perfect view of where Sleeping Child Creek flowed into the Bitterroot River. This is the type of view that probably would have appealed to Heidegger, and for that matter, would appeal to almost anyone. And, as I walked around the sage covered hillside, looking down at the river, and the succeeding hillsides and snow-covered mountains--I felt nothing. Well, nothing in particular. This could be an occasion for me to feel the poetry of the landscape, and perhaps feel the oceanic experience of the Being surrounding me. But what I felt, instead, was my own Existence. The landscape, tried as I could to walk around in circles, kick the weathered wood laying on the ground, and picking up the femur of an elk lying on the concrete...was separate from me. I was aware of my own existence, rough around the edges, and filled with worry, but not of the beauty around me. Sometimes this can be remedied by being in a spectacular location, (but this was spectacular enough), sometimes it can be remedied by the process of getting to the location, which drops me step by step into a more meditative state. And sometimes if I have a task to do, it allows me to really notice my surroundings...but today, I didn't want to stare at elk poop. So I just sat there, thought about a girl, and left, aware of how much I was missing, but not aware of what I was missing.
But I will add one thing to this: Heidegger was fond of finding things out through etymology, sometimes through somewhat suspect etymology. I don't know if he ever applied this trick to his own name, because the result is somewhat ironic. "Heidegger" actually means the same thing in German as it does in English: merely a German pronunciation of "Heath" and "Digger", or literally someone who plows up and settles in the uplands. Heidegger was somewhat of a proto-environmentalist, saying that technological thinking turned nature into a series of resources to be exploited. Strangely enough, his name itself refers to that process. And while I was sitting there on the hills, covered with sage instead of with heath, I was in a way doing the same thing: trying to extract some beauty and pleasure out of the scenery. Once I am aware of the oceanic possibilities of Being, of the possibility of the natural world to help transform my thinking...it becomes yet another resource to be exploited, this time for my own mental state, and I become the one digging at those hills, trying to extract some form of meaning out of their dry soil and scrubby plants.