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Monday, June 8, 2015


Deja vu, French for "already seen," is the impression of having experienced something before. Let's be clear: The expression itself, deja vu, is familiar to you because you have heard it before, so knowing what deja vu means should not be construed as an instance of it. Not that you'd do that anyway.

Rather, deja vu is the feeling that you have already seen or experienced something or someone which should be totally new because it is the first time. Like that feeling of knowing a person at first glance before you even meet. Or the feeling of having been someplace before, though it is to all appearances your first time there. Or in my case, the feeling I've eaten today's breakfast before, as in yesterday and the day prior and for that matter the last half dozen years, every day the same damn fruit smoothie. And that I've run the same route, and biked the same route, and jerked off to the same . . .  okay this is not deja vu. It's me being a creature of habit. Just don't call me a slave to routine. Because there's a difference, I'm just not sure what it is.

As an undergraduate I once took a girlfriend with me to school. As we strolled around north campus holding hands, she told me, "I feel like we've done this before. It must be deja vu." Until that day Isabella had never been to UCLA, so this really was our first time. But we had gone to the same high school. So being on campus together was merely a reminder of our days back at Beverly, right? Maybe not.

A phenomenon as familiar as deja vu is that of whole-life review. You know, the feeling of seeing your entire life pass before your eyes. This typically occurs during a near-death experience, when under the influence of psychedelics, or after a brush with disaster, or in a moment of epiphany, a person sees the events of her life, the sum total as it were, in an instantaneous revelatory and often brilliant flash. 

Could it be that these two phenomena, deja vu and whole-life review, are otherwise related? Does whole-life review occur exclusively in a crisis or at the end of life, or does seeing the light also happen before life has been lived and thus account for the presence of deja vu?

In other words, is it possible that you feel as if you're living something "new" over again because you actually had the experience before, as a vision before you were even born?

The Srimad Bhagavatam, an ancient Eastern scripture, states: "At the moment of death the sum of all the experiences of life on earth comes to the surface of the mind . . . then comes complete loss of memory . . . next there arises before man's mind the vision of his life to come."

If this indeed is the case, then each life is the material expression, played out over decades, of a vision seen in its totality in a flash before it all begins.

The great artist Leonardo da Vinci, in creating his famous "Last Supper" painting, was observed to sit motionless for days before the untouched canvass. It was only when he saw the finished work in his mind's eye that he set about bringing it to life by giving it form.

Like the sculptor standing before the piece of clay, imagining what it will become, seeing the  fully-realized work in the amorphous mass before with painstaking exactitude coaxing the finely-formed figure from the heap, we are all architects, artists, sculptors of our own life. In a revelatory flash we see the totality of our material existence as a vision before the actual events play themselves out. Then comes the living.

The Italian scholar Benedetto Croce, author of the masterpiece on Aesthetics, wrote extensively on the difference between art and science. He says of the artist: "When we have mastered the internal word, when we have vividly and clearly conceived a figure or a statue, or found a musical theme, expression is born and is complete, nothing more is needed. If, then, we open our mouth, and speak or sing, what we do is to say aloud what we have already said within, to sing aloud what we have already sung within. If our hands strike the keyboard, if we take up pencil or chisel, such actions are willed, and what we are then doing is executing in great movements what we have already executed briefly and rapidly within."

And like the artist, the individual has that conception of the idea that is to be his entire life, and the external manifestation is the living of it - ideally, with the artist's mechanical technique and skill. Your life is the concrete representation of an image you had long before you were born, and the living of it is your work of art, your contribution to the world. Let your life, as your art, be a thing of beauty. Your life is your message, what is it you wish to say?

I wonder if my girlfriend who felt as though we’d cuddled up on campus before also "remembered" that we’d break up several months later. Maybe she did, which must have been why it was so easy for her to jump into bed with the next guy. It wasn't so easy for me. Back then, I had a lot to learn about the art of remembering, and of living, but I’m getting better every day. This is me making beauty. Now if I could just stop being such a slave to routine!

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