Alone in a world of believers

You are blessed and cursed to have found your meaning in the question of meaning itself.

Blessed to be motivated to take a journey of deepest discovery, not only of the universe without, but of the universe within.

Cursed to be born in a world of believers, who are constantly and continuously tricked by the illusion of certainty and absolute meaning.

You have, through much existential suffering and malaise, arrived at some profound insights: meaning does not exist without, but within. Believers believe in what you have found to be myths; believers implicitly believe in the immortality of their egos, which you have failed to locate in yourself; believers expect judgment from a cosmic judge, now, today, and at every instant in the future, and you have realized you are your own judge.

You were once a believer. You too believed in absolute cosmic meaning. You too assumed and behaved as if your ego was immortal. You too were constantly feeling judgment, worried and fretting over the standards set by your fellow believers, and by the ultimate arbitrator. Put that all together and you have a wonderfully adapted and adaptable foot soldier in any environment at any historical time. Self motivated and self monitoring. Guided by shared myths. An immortal soul assured of favourable judgment resting peacefully every single night.

But you were not a believer for long. Something did not click. Too many doubts led to too many questions which led to your lifelong search for meaning. And let nobody tell you this was an escape, bred of laziness, for the spoiled and weak souls; you have shed more tears, had more sleepless nights, agonized in both body and mind for hours and days, months and years, non-stop. You had to know. And knowing is never achieved without great cost.

You have truly lived as a restless and tortured soul for far too long. The illusion holding power over the believers was not quite powerful enough to hold you. And yet it was not weak. It clashed with your spirit, and created for you great tension and anxiety. You could not reconcile your experience in the world with your true essence. At times you lashed out, arrogantly pointed out all the faults of the universe; other times you turned your anxiety inward, assumed the fault must be in you, and lay for days in bed. You were never still, never at peace, never at ease; there was always tension.

And after all the struggle, which is still ongoing, you have clarified the old and arrived at many new insights. Meaning exists, but only insofar as a ‘mean-or’ exists. So it is right to say meaning exists in the universe, but wrong to say meaning is universal. The ego is an illusion, an amazing trick of the mind, and even if it did exist, it would not be immortal. And finally, after all is said and done, so to speak, there is no judge, no judgment, external to the one in our own heads.

Are these hollow truths? No. Do they matter? Yes.

If meaning is subjective then you have the power to create your own. If the ego is mortal then you should not sacrifice today, in the form of existential anxiety and fear, for the hope of a better future. And, most importantly, you are the judge of your own meaning and striving and deeds. You do not have to fear the wrath of some cosmic lawgiver. If you are true to yourself, and strive according to your own standards, that is good enough.

The world of believers is caught in a web of illusion that serves a purpose, one of which each is unaware. We are, after all, evolved apes running the software of the mind adapted for survival on the plains of Africa, in a world at a time far far removed from the one we inhabit today. And yet, that software has not been, could not have been, updated in all this time. For the updates of evolution take eons, and are never completed. And besides, evolution does not care about your existential suffering, or your search for meaning. Evolution is an amoral process, an algorithm. If you are successful at continuing the legacy begun by the laws of evolution, the grounds of your success will be selected. It really is as simple, and as amazing, as that. What better way for a highly intelligent, social, purpose-seeking, conscious animal to succeed in a universe without absolute meaning – where neither its ego nor its anxieties are worth a damn outside its own head – than to have that creature not only invent, but wholeheartedly believe in, a set of myths, values, meanings, governing rules and cosmic judgments, eternal rewards and punishments?

Believers have not suffered nearly the existential malaise and doubt that you have experienced. Of this you can be sure, because they are believers. That is not to say your path is in any sense better than any other. That is not to say you are superior in any way to anyone else. It is simply meant to illustrate that you are on a different path than most people. You were destined to discover these insights. And the path was hard, and will continue to be overgrown and poorly defined. Not many people have trodden this way. But those who have would make good company. In their presence, at least, you would not feel so alone.

You were born a seeker. You could not rest. Your doubt and anxiety fueled your journey. And you have uncovered some valuable truths.

Each path a life; the worn and barely used alike. The majority of your fellow travelers rarely, if ever, escape their guiding illusions, paths crisscrossing the world, forming wide corridors and highways of frenzied activity. They may have tread many more an empty mile than you, but in your stubbornness and reluctance to step off the curb, you have made the longer journey.

As I lie awake staring at the faint light filtering through the space between the boards in my mind

Raising head,

Lifting eyes from dark,

Stepping outward,

From underground.

Strange hollowness,

Echoes in mind,

Empty of pretense,

Confident in not knowing.

Optimism seeking light,

Broken long dormancy,

Entering the world without,

Blinding, suffocating familiarity.

Same grey streets;

Same concrete buildings;

Same managed woods and rectangular fields and forgettable faces on Sunday walks on worn paths.

Same hierarchies.

Same games.

Same pretense.

Same narratives.

Same flow. Same responses. Same predictability.

Tender optimism. Knowing nothing. Utterly incapable of playing.

Words and ideas left unformed.

Nervous air from lungs passing silently through clenched and clenching teeth.


‘Why? Why would it change out there?’

‘It is here, in here,’ the boy said, pointing to his temple. ‘It has always been.’


Confidence gone.


…the shaking….the shaking….the shaking….

of a leg…


Most people, most of the time, have nothing to say.

Yet they talk!

How they beckon! – Join us. Come join us. Prattle prattle prattle. –

Words strung together, stretching back through ages. Narratives weaving, myths uniting. Layers and scales; minds to civilizations. One unbroken, unbreakable web.

Pretense. Opinion. Myth.

Words, words, words.

Nothing to say. Narratives left unformed.

Underground.

Notes – What is consciousness?

Immediate thoughts after meditation session:

For a brief time I was able to invert the common experience of consciousness being located behind the face and in the middle of the head. I was able to expand the location of consciousness to fill the four walls within which I was seated. I am still pondering this phenomenon. I wonder, if consciousness is a type of software running on the hardware of the brain, a software that models reality, incorporating images and concepts and relations. Does it make sense to assume it must exist somewhere? Sure, consciousness depends on the brain, but it is composed of non-material entities and categories (or so it seems – a claim very difficult for a materialist such as myself to digest), and as such, does not from necessity need to reside anywhere. If consciousness is not a material thing, it cannot be located anywhere. Is consciousness a realm of reality unto itself? And if not, how could the material realm produce such an illusion?

I opened my eyes at the end of the session and looked at my field of vision (a brown leather couch, a bookshelf to my left, a world map directly ahead, lamp and black side table), and was able to understand that this view was being created in my mind, and I was aware of it in the arena of consciousness. Though the software seamlessly makes me think those things which I see are out there in front of my eyes, and I am here, at a node where light waves reflected from those objects converge (which indeed, I think is safe to say, is an accurate description of the physics involved), I was able to grasp the experience of conscious awareness of this field of vision more fully, more accurately. That is, the images ARE NOT OUT THERE, but are in my mind, and I am consciously aware of those images. This deceptively simple realization was hard to achieve, and lasted only moments, but it was real and, I believe, accurate.

Conversations with myself – #4

I’ve resisted writing. There is little new to say. Old terrain, worn terrain.

And I annoy myself. And how!

But it goes round. This thought.

And that.

Fueled by fear. Fear itself.

Fear of failure. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of weakness. Fear of being seen. Fear of second place, of ridicule, of pain. Fear of letting you down. Fear of expectations. Fear of correctness. Fear of rules. Fear and more fear. Fear in the day, as I fret over my place in this universe. Fear in the night, as my mind slowly consumes itself in waking nightmares.

EVERY SINGLE DAY, EVERY BLOODY NIGHT.

Oh nausea! Ennui! A restless rest and static floating!

Oh, would that I melt and become water, flowing downhill to rejoin the eternal ocean. Oh, would that my fear achieve its apparent aim, and utterly obliterate the connections that hold me together.

Obsession of obsessions: obsessed with my obsessions.

One day, I promise myself, I will release this fear and angst, baked and hardened kernel feeding my doubt. I will give it back, down through the ages.

No blame. No blame. As if the universe can be faulted for a thing!

I will return this gift bestowed upon me, the one that has consumed me, dictated my life, for thirty-five years and ten months to the day.

But right now, this instant, I am afraid.

Mission statement for 2019

Don’t mistake the crowd for the truth; failing to fit in does not mean you’re broken.

Your horizons might extend further than your neighbour’s, your colleague’s, your friend’s; trust in your own eyes, let others trust in theirs.

With deference to Hamlet, might I add: there is also nothing either right or wrong, but truth to one’s self makes it so.

Optimism

Set me adrift in the blackness,

Let me spin aimlessly like a homeless globe,

Traversing endless light-years without bearing.

Release me to the void.

To the black velvety comfort of a lightless horizon.


I see. I hear. 

Nothing.


A selfish bastard denying the world. One final cowardly display of spite.

I spit at thee and shut up my eyes and ears to all thy photons and surfaces and waves.

You – life animate and inanimate – force me to understand; you squeeze my head until it pops. 

And I say NO! NO MORE!

I do not understand. I do not see it. I do not hear it. I am dumb and selfish; dumb for not seeing, selfish for not wanting to see.

It makes no sense! And I know!

I am absurd and I can’t help it!


I feel the dark beckoning, offering infinitely more promise, more hope, more strength, than your cold, demanding, rational chaos. 

I am selfish. I see. I hear.

Nothing.


Now release me, let me drop, so that I may go spinning, aimlessly, optimistically, through the blackest void.

Alienation: an experiment

Here’s an experiment. Tomorrow, before entering the world, wear your hair a different way. Don socks that don’t match. When asked ‘how are you?’, don’t lie. Frown.

When the queen walks in, remain seated. 

Be honest. Be yourself tomorrow.

Unless you are infinitely agreeable, unless your hair looks equally good parted, unless you are God, prepare yourself. 

Prepare for the onslaught of thinly veiled snideness, disapproval, disdain; prepare for unsolicited opinions, for rolled eyes, for mockery; prepare for all the tools at society’s disposal to keep you in line. To hammer you to conformity. 

You’re a glass half empty kind of person? You best have them walkin’ papers signed and stamped! 

DO NOT ROCK THE BOAT!

You got that?

And always, always remember: FOLLOW THE CROWD. 

I dare you: wear your hair differently tomorrow.

Aphorisms – 2

Heed not too quickly the disapproving gaze, it may be the clearest proof yet you are on the correct way.

Aphorisms – 1

I’d rather fail a thousand times, before succeeding at something I despise. 

An introvert’s reminder

Arrogance is bad. Arrogance grounded in ignorance is even worse.

Independence may be a defense from the truth, a form of self-righteousness and silent arrogance.

Don’t seal yourself from the world, and claim superiority.

We may be our own worst (or forgiving) judges, yet removed from the tempering wisdom found only in human contact, our judgments lack facts.

A mind turned inward fails to recognize its reflection in the arena of social interaction.

The eye can’t see itself.

No one is an island.

Venting

Don’t hide behind clichés to justify yourself. Don’t blame the craziness of this world for your crazy actions. Take some goddamned responsibility.

Yeah, this life is crazy! Simply acknowledging that does not excuse your craziness, does not give it justification, does not clear the path to forgiveness and understanding.

Let me tell you, you don’t bring order to a chaotic world by increasing the chaos. There is no second law of social thermodynamics, wherein your personal order is attained at the expense of increasing social disorder.

You decrease overall chaos by first dealing with your personal chaos; get your own house in order before throwing yourself into the gears of the universe.

See it for what it is. That is the first step. Selfishness. Insecurity. Anger. Aggression. Weakness. Immorality. Willing blindness. Self-deception. Denial. Deceit. Lying. Obstruction. See it for what it is.

What is your role? Take the lead in judgement upon yourself. Develop some moral fortitude. Admit and attempt to remedy your mistakes. Few of us are so far gone that we can’t be pulled back from the abyss. Give yourself that first helping hand. Surely you must know, if anyone does, your actions are wrong, hurtful, dangerous, destabilizing. You simply have to ask yourself: ‘how would I feel?’

How would I feel?

How would you feel?

Bring some order to this chaotic world, and with humility and honesty, answer that question.

The switch

The mind has made a switch,

From days inward searching spent,

To heed the call of assumed responsibilities,

And rejoin the careening wheels of society.

The mind has made a switch,

And slides sadly into this communal pit.

…rhyming Homer with Homer…

Insight my mind has not brought!

Endless loops with doubt fraught!

Infinite thoughts pitifully caught!

Stagnation has only wrought rot!

Conversations with myself – #2

Stop feeding off my pain. I cannot take it any longer. The burden, the weight, is far too great. I am no longer your scapegoat, your bearer of misfortune. My pain cannot heal you. I am not your savior.

Though I love you,

I need my strength for me. For me and for them.

(When my son hurts I care for him. I tend his wound, soothe his ailing body. How is it I know what to do?

What of his inner pain? How do I care for that?

When he cries out in pain, I hold him. When he can’t sleep for fear, I reassure him. When he looks down at his feet, reluctant to face the world, I cup his chin in my hand and lift his face toward mine. When he needs me, I am there for him. But even he…even he must someday care for himself.)

I avoid what should be done.

What must be done? What must be done?

(And by must I mean should, as should demands a moral choice: No other choices have meaning. To live with meaning, then, one must choose what should be chosen).

Care for myself as I would my son.

Not so deep within lives a little boy. And when he is afraid, he screams out so loud. A deafening, piercing wail. Screams to be saved.

Silent now. Do you hear him?

The fear of pain becomes the pain.

Fear of loss, of regret. Fear of mistakes. Fear of making an active, as opposed to a reactive, choice.

Through all this. Thirty-five years six months and four days later. That seems to be what I have learned. It all comes down to this: becoming a mature adult man, father and husband and citizen of this world, requires a choice.

Make a choice! Shoulder responsibility, or, rather, make responsibility my own.

I have avoided choices. Certain painful choices. Particularly risky choices. I fear an uncertain future. I sacrifice my present to the morning, but the morning never comes.

I fear an uncertain future, and the morning never comes.

Day in. Day out. Month after monotonous month.

The autumn breeze blows in winter’s chill. Melting ice reveals nodding snow bells, bowing to summer’s rising sun. Around, and around, and around this globe turns in its celestial ellipse. And I, my childlike existence, twirling and spinning and twisting limbs akimbo, orbiting my hard choices, year after bloody year.

(There are only so many seasons the flowers will bloom before these lights go out, and I feed the roots of next spring’s annuals).

I hover in childlike existence. I wait for someone to make the choice. To take it. To move the waltz along. I am not yet finished the dance, the high school wonder. I haven’t yet the courage to take her hand; or to turn my back. I haven’t the fortitude to say yes, to say no. Or anything much, at all.

Days into months, seasons into years; and there it is, nonchalant, uncaring, oblivious. Passing, turning, passing and turning.

Oh how the days pass me by, and the seasons turn their back on me.

And aging.

Thirty, Thirty-one, Thirty-two, Thirty-three. Now thirty-five. Now thirty-five and six months. Now thirty-five and six months and four days.

And it, nonchalant and uncaring, passing and turning. The seasons of my life, orbiting the hard choices, my choices, waiting for someone to make them.

Waiting for me to take them.

I only move if you push me

It is slowing down.

The letters, the words,

only now a trickle.

A sign of change.

Healing, optimism? Or the opposite:

resignation?

This….this is my life.

This is my life?

Resignation.


Someone, oh someone pick me up!

Bathe and clothe and nurture me.

Point the way, or better yet, take me there.

Oh, someone please pick me up!

(I scream into the Abyss and only I can hear).


I have shed a million tears. And I am still right here.

I only move if you push me.

I will shed a million more. Fill this room to overflowing.

And I will not swim.

And I will sink.

And I will be right here.

Conversations with myself – #1

I can’t force the parts of me to emerge, to come out from hiding.

That is one of the paradoxes here: set the mind to let go of control, make that a goal, and the mind automatically elects an executor, gives it the label ‘I’, and sets to work.

But by that very act, the goal itself becomes unattainable.

Letting go cannot be consciously willed.


There is a thought here about OCD. Something fleeting, out of reach. It has to do with an intuition, and the realization that explaining, arguing, defending the intuition with logic and reason, would in and of itself be all the argument I would need. The very act of arguing is itself the argument.

OCD needs control. Intuitions are suspect.


Consciousness from a distance, perhaps consciousness unclouded or uninfluenced by emotion or expectation or assumption, by narrative – perhaps that is dissociation. Viewing oneself as from the outside, and realizing that ‘oneself’ is not in fact one, is not a unified essence, but rather an association of multiple parts and systems subsumed by consciousness, abstracted under the simplified label ‘I’.

The brain abstracts. This is a fact. Is it any surprise, that once consciousness emerged, the brain abstracted itself? It has awoken to itself and given itself a name.

Just as the abstraction ‘tree’ denotes the concept of a tree, the abstraction ‘I’ denotes something, and not another thing. But what is that something?

Subsumed by the concept ‘tree’ are many types, forms, varieties. There exists a spectrum of entities with ‘treeish’ qualities. But, Plato aside, there is no form of a perfect tree, of which all actual trees are mere approximations.

No. At the extremes of the set of all possible trees will be trees that, for example, could arguably be classified as ‘shrub’. That classification would be a matter of arbitrary boundaries, imposed by humans on an evolved spectrum of entities.

What about the concept ‘I’? I know what I am not. I am neither ‘rock’, nor ‘tree’. But am I a unified entity as I sense myself to be, most of the time? Am I the actual ‘I’ in this sentence? What does that even mean? Does the question make sense?

In my more introspective, more passive moments, when I refuse or am exhausted from interaction with this world, I intuit I am an illusion.

I exist, and can be defined, only as concretely (if that!) as the concept ‘tree’. At the extremes of defining myself, I find a blurring of the me and the not me, and it becomes impossible to identify a clear boundary. It is experiencing this boundary, directly and clearly through introspection, that the illusion of a defined, unified ‘I’ becomes apparent.

This illusion is belied by the intuition of being united and disjoint, sad and happy, clear and muddied, young and old, wise and naive, SIMULTANEOUSLY! These are not sequential observations apprehended by the mind in quick succession; these qualities exist at the same time, in the same person.


Something unified, whole, one, cannot, in the strictest sense, contain contradictory parts. Show me a truly unified country. Show me any organization that doesn’t contain inherent oppositions. In reality, no amalgamation of disparate entities and divergent qualities is whole, is one, in the strictest sense. Harmony is constantly fought for, is hard-won, is at perpetual risk of collapse. Simple abstractions such as ‘I’, ‘Canada’, ‘United Nations’, masks these facts.


We could redefine the commonsense label ‘I’ to include all these disjointed, multiple systems and parts. We could do that at the risk of being misunderstood. Or we could speak with clarity, and say the person is a conglomeration of contradictions and strained relationships, that manage to coexist and, often, cooperate toward some greater end, such as reproduction,  democracy, world peace. Perhaps the simplification, the abstraction, performed by the mind on itself is a useful trick, a rule of thumb, to operate more effectively in a complex world.


Consider again the contradictory qualities apprehended by consciousness. I am inclined to say that these qualities, in fact, constitute consciousness. Consciousness and the ‘objects’ of consciousness are one and the same. Self-awareness then is a special case of consciousness taking itself as the object of consciousness.


‘I’, like ‘tree’, properly understood, must fall on a spectrum, if we insist on keeping the term at all. It is a useful term in fact. It does seem to denote something, that is, as opposed to nothing, or anything.

But the illusory ‘I’, the executor of your ‘free’ will (another illusion), does not exist as you think it does. It is a simplification, a useful abstraction, no doubt, but also potentially dangerous. It demands and often commands too much respect. It often weds the ego, or simply is the ego, and takes a life of its own. The illusory ‘I’, like the body it inhabits, refuses to die (which is perhaps beneficial to the body). But once its usefulness has been exhausted, it still clings to life, clings to the illusion it requires to exist.

To me, my ‘I’ represents the dictator of my life, is addicted to control, needs exactitude and axiomatic precision. Not only does it insist I be a certain way, demanding strict obedience to its dictates, but that reality be a certain way as well. Oh the arrogance! Conformity of reality to my boundaries ensures my deepest fears never become actualized (or, more precisely, I blind myself to their actualization), never bubble to the surface of consciousness, where they would need to be dealt with.


In a world of total control the substance of fear cannot form, cannot organize, cannot act. In a world of total control, fear is banished and forbidden to enter. The illusion of control: that is the reason my ‘I’ is so reluctant to die.

Fatherhood – a poem

The Abyss Post

Silence reason and there, within

A fruit of consciousness and reflection,

Pushes like a force against the walls of the mind,

Like the beauty of a cloudless morn,

Something indescribable.


On another plane,

When you were young, paddling

A warcraft canoe with your dad – captain,

On Frog Lake in the failing light,

Toward your amphibious haven.


And oh the sound! Of fiberglass on sandy shore.

Of kindling crackling and flame warming.

And oh the smell! Of steak and onion and pine-needle carpets.

Of supping and talking and laughing and thinking.

And the sight…the sight,

Of two people on a log, and a dog

In the bush on a bed of moss.


Tired. Cold. Afraid.

Lying there you listen

To his breath, its rhythm.

As an anchor in the storm of your mind,

You sleep.


Sitting still in the afternoon sun,

This fruit of consciousness and reflection,

Pushes like a…

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Quote #5

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Dissociation

Stop that grasping,

and just let it go.

I don’t exist,

and never have.

This body, this mind,

these cells of bone, muscle, nerves and skin.

I am an illusion,

emerging from a neural network,

unifying through gross abstraction,

these multiple, interacting, embedded parts.

I am and I am not.

I am here, but I am elsewhere.

I feel anger, but simultaneous joy; pessimism and optimism; strength and weakness. I am both heavy and light.

These are no mere metaphors,

turns of phrase,

figures of speech.

In no way am I speaking in analogy; it is not as if I don’t exist; it is not as if I am multiple yet one; it is not as if I speak to myself across infinitesimal chasms in my mind.

‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘myself’, as descriptors, do not suffice.

There exists no single point, no central hub, no captain’s chair, where I take the helm and direct the show. But instead, there is system and sub-system feeding into itself and into the other; system within system of inter-networked biochemistry and electrical spikes. The sense, the illusion of self emerging from this near infinite complexity and potential.

Stop that grasping, that clinging, that clutching, that hoarding;

Stop that pining, that longing, that needing, that demanding;

Stop that storytelling, that narrating, that ascribing, that moralizing;

and let the illusion go.

Words do not suffice.

Let it go.

 

Bus station ecology

Outside a café by the central bus station.

Wasps. A gentle breeze stalling their forward propulsion. They hover, drawn to the foamed milk and cocoa powder topping my cappuccino.

Enlightening places: central transportation hubs. A congregation of humanity’s diversity: addicts; homeless; drunkards clasping and gulping bottles of warm beer; schoolkids travelling home from school; workers in dirty work pants and black heavy-soled boots; housewives pushing carriages of napping babies; immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe; bikers and walkers and taxi-cab drivers; old retirees in white Velcro sneakers and dated threadbare dress pants and sport jackets; the low, the lower middle, the middle classes; the working classes; students; artists; the down-trodden; the hopeful; the resigned. All jostling, vibrating, moving lives and lifetimes, stories, criss-crossing, weaving paths back and forth and back again on the concrete canvas.

And me. Another node of carbon-based molecules connected by infinite invisible threads to the world around. Inhaling. Exhaling. Respiring the same gas as the drug-addict missing her two front teeth; as the Arab hairdresser speaking a strange tongue to a friend on the threshold of his shop. Shooing wasps from my drink. Smiling inwardly at the too-fat pigeon waddling underfoot for crumbs.

A crippled man passes. The click-clack of a cane. And a woman on an old cellular phone.

Here’s one with cigarette in hand, shawl wrapped warmly, multi-coloured polyester handbag fit snugly into elbow’s crook, texting all the while, as she pauses briefly at my table, puts her bag – still looped over her texting arm – down on the seat, cigarette pressed between lips, and rummages through.

Do they know? Do they know I see them? I really observe them? I study them? I think of them? I remember them? For now. For today. And perhaps longer still. Do they know, they have become a part of me?

Now two ancient nodes have joined my table. Prehistoric lovers. His teeth perfectly pearly white. She wearing rouge on her once flawlessly beautiful, now wrinkled, and still beautiful cheeks. Wedding rings. Umbrellas. He making jokes. She barely smiling, barely giving an inch, but still giving that inch: yes, she’s heard them all before. Two ancient prehistoric lovers.

The pigeon waddles past. The breeze becoming a wind forces the hovering wasps to the eaves. Overhead a flock of city birds circles. Rested, the two stand, hand in hand, and depart.