I’ve become comfortable in not knowing, rather than confident in there being nothing to know. Chogyam Trungpa’s philosophy on the lie of fulfillment, “Anything that appears in your life, you regard as something to consume. If you see a beautiful autumn leaf falling, you regard it as your prey,” as well as Schopenhauer’s nausea of a meaningless world and anguish of having freedom in it, both resonated with me. I know I’m going to keep working hard throughout my life, writing, reflecting, pushing, knowing no level of accomplishment or money will feel like we’re told it will. I’d like to live my life in the way of many of these texts, like stoicism’s content embrace of things you cannot control, and necessary action to reduce suffering of what you can control. I’d like to be constantly walking out of caves without the pretension of it.
Marx stated that, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” The context offered that religion eases the proletariat’s pain. It allows them to be content with the social order of the world because they know the powerful sinners (who control religion) will suffer in the afterlife, making their power and material wealth pointless. Sarte managed to reconcile the inability for rational meaning with Marxist and anarchist thought for the organization of society. Power seems almost childish. How do I simultaneously analyze power and wealth as meaningless to satisfaction, and strive for an anarchist revolution hoping to improve people’s satisfaction through power over their own lives? Maybe menial jobs exhaust without offering even the slightest feeling that you’re moving towards a(n illusionary) goal in the way expressive work can. The boredom and frustration that these philosophers describe is better than the alternative down Maslow’s hierarchy.
Consciousness is awareness of an internal simplified model enabling you to have control over your attention. This is quite different from the often believed ideas that either consciousness is an illusion, or it’s a mysterious emergent self that suddenly comes into being. The extraordinary and spiritual are caused by abnormal disruptions in our never-objective, but usually “good enough” model. Knowing this, we can recognize the truly immense power of the brain, and no longer separate consciousness, mind, body, and universe from each other, an empowering concept.
To find every prior thought you had suddenly unenlightened, and then twice over as your focus develops, is a rare and fascinating experience. It means letting go of the people you previously viewed as equals. It’s a sudden disownment of your prior self, and a view that you’ve overcome your basic ways. To then be murdered for appearing as stupid to the folk you left behind is predictable. Explaining your newfound illumination, and trying to spread it, can appear as absolutely demeaning to the listener’s entire experience in life. This is why preaching either religion or science that conflicts with someone’s established beliefs is heat-provoking. It’s why non-binary gender is so difficult for the general population to grasp, and why the study of privilege is mocked by those that don’t, “check themselves”.
Enlightenment is not necessarily good. You can certainly believe you’ve reached a new level, with the motive behind that teaching based in an oppressive or exploitative hierarchy. Of course, all enlightenment is through manipulation to some degree. Some forms promote racism, sexism, etc., and some bring forth a new diversity of knowledge and background. Either way, one can be snooty about it. Seeing on a whole new level is a visceral experience. It’s elevating. I’ve felt it after finally comprehending and gaining a complete and confident political ideology, and lost it when hitting a roadblock of knowledge that others sharing my identity seem to grasp. Going backwards in enlightenment is in a way it’s own enlightenment. You realize your prior feelings of “knowing it” were invalid, even if you’re now less confident about belief than before. Relationships can go from a honeymoon phase of easily seeing each other married with kids, stepping out of the cave of singleness, to feeling unsure about the future now that you’re facing it, stepping out of the cave of naive certainty. Of course, your partner may not have stepped out of the same cage, and your sun of uncertainty may make you worse off than the shadows of your former commitment to one life path. Like the murder from the allegory, expressing this sun could easily be the end of a relationship.
In daily life, I realized I don’t actually lie much. Holding myself to disclose everything seemed pretty immediately impractical, so I took the approach of assuming “do not lie,” means, “do not speak inaccurate to your knowledge.” In a few rare moments, I avoided responding to questions I didn’t immediately feel comfortable answering, where I’d usually dodge with my words.
I noticed how my immediate explanation for a story was to some degree embellished. Telling it flatly wouldn’t have the same dramatic effect. For these situations, I gave up (“did you ever hear how he broke up with them? umm, well, now that I think about it, I forget. Trust me, it makes him look shitty!”) or immediately disclosed (“…modified slightly to fit with your story”) and thought about for a while later. Would telling it flatly be closer to the truth, though? Getting the same emotional response from the situation as I had out of the listener may be a more genuine retelling than replicating words as closely as possible.
I pondered whether my self-portrayal was a lie. I could feel the disingenuity in my eyes, brows, and forehead while attempting to be happy and in the moment when truly worried off-topic. As a person, I don’t feel necessarily honest or dishonest. I don’t actively lie, and I avoid breaking people’s trust, but I know some don’t perceive interactions with me as always “real”. Can I, without ever telling a lie, be dishonest in my existence?
The experiment didn’t have as large of an impact on my lifestyle as I expected. It certainly didn’t make me feel like a better person. Lies as actions don’t have much of an impact on my perception of honestly. None of the incidents effected by, “do not lie,” felt remotely as large as the vague feeling of fake-ness.
On a side note, white lies. “Harmless, trivial.” Pretty sure they’re yet another subtly racist phrase of black evil and white purity. A connecting example is white collar crime that hurts millions, with the perpetrator lying yet abiding by the objectivist principals fancied by our elite, versus “real” dark criminal activity, which doesn’t necessitate dishonesty.
It’s really quite liberating to know just how small we are, and just how pointless everything we do is. The avoidance of boredom becomes the central aspect of our lives, and it doesn’t really matter what we do to achieve that. Love, career, education, and entertainment, all the same. To cease sobbing is to fall into boredom. Life suddenly becomes lighter, freer, and more incredible when you think of how our cities, empires, and economics are built as a natural response to put off boredom for a species that wasn’t meant to be. Of course, development decreases the amount of necessary menial work for survival, forcing us to face our futility in the creation of our own, self-conscious boredom-avoidance devices. This perhaps explains the riskiest things we do. Substances alter our default, bored state to something novel. Risk exposes us to potential death in daily life. Sobering, yet fun. Reflecting on the time when a driver repeatedly attempted to sideswipe me while I was going 40mph down Jackson on my bike, I can’t say the traumatic and angered feelings were of scare or necessarily negative. The feeling was raw, and not directly definable. It was anything but bored. Success.
The hierarchies of the world seem utterly childish. The few demanding financial, racial, gender, sexual, and all other forms of superiority over each other, under a presumption we’ve been taught that this will bring you to a less bored and more meaningful status. House of Cards season 4 gives me this feeling–the couple has fought hard, murdered, and lied for the presidency, the least noble journey. Getting there doesn’t change anything. Power doesn’t give meaning. The arts and sciences are another try at finding fulfillment. Academia offers the same requirement for relentlessness that risk and power grabs have, but expand and develop human knowledge. You can say they make positive change in the world. They help get people out of hard survival work, and into the dilemma we face. I still think that’s a good thing, but existence is always a struggle.
Half of us barefoot, a cactus in my hand, and a gelatinous candy being placed in my mouth. I saw people I felt incredibly comfortable with, able to say anything to and hear anything from, and not able to be taken for granted. The effect of outright declaring holiness to my friend extended beyond long after and before itself, categorizing the event as a Coming of Age-film style defining moment for the end of high school, even though an insurmountable load of writing to do is likely more accurate. In that holy moment, a backlog of work didn’t really matter. I was consumed by emotion from the beauty of knowing people. All good emotions, certainly able to make me tear up or laugh hard, or both.
The afterglow of this continued to the following day, when I, without knowing any details of it, joined Adrienne on her class trip to the Break Free march in Anacortes, followed by a euphoric picnic in Deception Pass, drive down Whidbey Island, and a broken down car at the ferry loading dock. Throughout all of that, I felt completely in sync with the moment, comfortable, and with none of the usual anxieties of life. It was real.
Yet, maybe my brain, in search for a reflection to write, is romanticizing? Could the spirituality have been concocted by my brain after the chronological fact? If so, does that even matter?
Being an outside viewer of a mechanized world gives you a God-like perspective. We saw people, cars, and chickens existing as only mechanized movement, with no individuality or conveyance of emotions. When you step back from that perspective, realizing you’re one of them, you suddenly feel minuscule, at the complete whim of outside forces, with internal forces simply not mattering in the grand scheme. My brother, a fellow transit/urban nerd, showed me a clip of this film several years ago, with little to say about it, but a great deal perceived from the body language he used to present it. Experiencing the film is harrowing.
Coming down from the film, I can’t help but think about the great stress each driver in each vehicle advancing a single street during each green light, with no end in sight to the sea of traffic. The high speed mechanization processes were so dehumanizing, they made me better able to conceptualize each individual’s pain, and understand it as systematic. A single chick being processed on its own through a factory farm couldn’t give the same broadly specific idea as thousands being tumbled down a chute. You can almost laugh at how small individuals are to the group, how large their own experience of the world is, and how exponentially large the meaningless and powerless experiences of all are. The earliest scenes are of normality in the animal kingdom. Bathing. This is contrasted with our utterly strange world. Not the scholarly endeavors that set humans apart, but the things people end up actually doing, with little choice in the matter.
The moment the experiment began, a paper airplane presented itself in front of me. I threw it. It lurched forward, then twisted back around, landing just two feet away from me. The spot? Where my three new pots were. Three pots I was about to leave behind. Everything is for my benefit.
Coming down the hill into downtown, an ostentatious supercar was in front of me, and a minivan of people reaching out their windows to tell me that I “looked so good” was to the side. I didn’t crash, didn’t break my fresh pots, and experienced heightened self confidence. Everything is for my benefit.
Later that day, as I stood on the bus with my bike attached to the rack and my helmet planted on my head, a man started ranting. He told me that I needed to be careful, because I’ve “only one ass to break”. He tells me to ride on sidewalks, which is absolutely poor advice for many conditions. “And watch out for driveways”. It felt strange and disrespectful, ignoring the concept that I could have achieved any safety lessons on my own, but I couldn’t help but laugh about it in the context of “everything is for your benefit”.
Something felt oddly spiritual about these rapidly occurring unusual experiences I could directly relate to the experiment. But maybe I was just looking hard.
I came down with a severe cold on Friday, beginning with delirium during my senior project presentation, and culminating through the memorial day weekend and the start of this week. I felt unconscious, an automaton. I disassociated from space itself, losing my earbuds at school on Tuesday and feeling overwhelmed in facing my memory and place. Everything is for my benefit? I guess Folklife is always a disappointment anyways, and it gave me a valid excuse for the mistakes I made. I experienced a load of television and virtual city building over the weekend that must in some way alter my reference point, perhaps for my own benefit.
Sometimes things genuinely aren’t for your benefit, and it’s pretty toxic to go by the policy that they always are. I’m a white cis dude, so society has been quite literally built for my benefit. Society does tell the underprivileged that they should accept conditions as is, and get on with life. You’ve got a water fountain, what’s the issue? And that’s why this is an experiment, not a way to live permanently.
The time of a man’s life is as a point; the substance of it ever flowing, the sense obscure; and the whole composition of the body tending to corruption. His soul is restless, fortune uncertain, and fame doubtful; to be brief, as a stream so are all things belonging to the body; as a dream, or as a smoke, so are all that belong unto the soul. Our life is a warfare, and a mere pilgrimage. Fame after life is no better than oblivion. What is it then that will adhere and follow? Only one thing, philosophy. And philosophy doth consist in this, for a man to preserve that spirit which is within him, from all manner of contumelies and injuries, and above all pains or pleasures; never to do anything either rashly, or feignedly, or hypocritically: wholly to depend from himself and his own proper actions: all things that happen unto him to embrace contentedly, as coming from Him from whom he himself also came; and above all things, with all meekness and a calm cheerfulness, to expect death, as being nothing else but the resolution of those elements, of which every creature is composed. And if the elements themselves suffer nothing by this their perpetual conversion of one into another, that dissolution, and alteration, which is so common unto all, why should it be feared by any? Is not this according to nature? But nothing that is according to nature can be evil.
I get from this passage a basic understanding of stoicism. To “embrace contentedly” everything that happens to you, for you to focus only on your control over your own actions and preventing them from being rash, hypocritical, or feign, for life to be brought down to a natural process that you must go through before death. If you have no control over bad things handed to you, why should they effect you mentally? I find it much easier to disassociate from the emotions of situations I do have technical control over, but face uncertainty in. Colleges, or ice cream flavor. My indecision doesn’t feel noble. Stoically feeling ambivalent to all external pain may sound ideal, but I think any attempt would have the back burning feeling of emotional repression, not acceptance. This is exactly what I experience putting off decision. For me, this emotional repression connects to the bit on procrastination:
REMEMBER HOW LONG thou hast already put off these things, and how often a certain day and hour as it were, having been set unto thee by the gods, thou hast neglected it. It is high time for thee to understand the true nature both of the world, whereof thou art a part; and of that Lord and Governor of the world, from whom, as a channel from the spring, thou thyself didst flow: and that there is but a certain limit of time appointed unto thee, which if thou shalt not make use of to calm and allay the many distempers of thy soul, it will pass away and thou with it, and never after return.
In a way, procrastination is pretending you can be stoic about your own shit. You’re creating your own suffering by not acting, which you have the physical ability to do. Doing would require waking up, sometimes a painful proposition. Does suffering procrastination make you feign, rash, or hypocritical? Not many would doubt that overcoming procrastination is a positive inner skill, while external tragedy is inevitable and out of any semblance of your control, yet it’s an aspect of the mind that manifests as an external fight of a dueling mind, just like anxiety and depression. I found Meditations surprisingly relevant to dealing with the modern human condition, even in the moments I had strong disagreements with. Other, more recent, philosophy has convinced me that the human level of consciousness isn’t really meant to be. It asks for an ego and fosters deep emotional pain while still maintaining biological instinct as the sole purpose. Its societies have arranged relationships in a way that asks for an impossible ideal for everyone in achieving and maintaining both passionate and companionship love with one person. People have preferences on how they want to live with other people that result in a society inconsistent with what we know humans overall are emotionally and physically best in. We also consciously know global warming is species-threatening, yet we dissociate from having any personal weight on it (yes, it requires systemic change, yet the system is rarely fought by the masses), which is certainly feign, rash, and hypocritical, and not stoic. In many ways, our species lives to the opposite of Marcus Aurelius’ advice. I don’t know if adopting these meditations is enough to disassociate yourself from trauma, but I have the tendency to believe external apathy is not always possible in a healthy way.