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.

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.

The greatest gift

The greatest gift you can give another is a piece of your deepest self.

Not your time. Not your money; but something more precious still.

Is it understanding, or compassion, or attention that you offer? Is there a word bringing these together?

Love?

That piece you offer freely, that is the gift. You offer without reservation. You say ‘Do with it as you will’, though, of course, you hope and trust the other treads lightly.

And that’s the risk you take…

…and the pain you can inflict.

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.

The wall

metaphor-existential-wall

Spent a lifetime talking to that metaphorical wall,

Beat my hands and head until they bled.

Through streaming tears pleaded desperately, 

‘WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT FROM ME?’

Spent a lifetime talking to that metaphorical wall,

Until yesterday,

When I chose to listen.

Aphorisms – 2

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

Quote #9

hope-national geographic

By showing up with hope to help others, I’m guaranteed that hope is present. Then my own hope increases. By creating hope for others, I end up awash in the stuff. – Anne Lamott

ILLUSTRATION BY ELEANOR DAVIS

Read her beautiful article in National Geographic’s October 2018 issue. 

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.

 

Twenty-four fountains

Twenty-four fountains. Spitting vertical spouts of clear water a foot high. Each stream pulled down on itself by gravity; unfurling liquid ferns held together by surface tension. At the tip of each transparent crystal frond quickly accelerating towards Earth’s center, fracturing and division as multiple single droplets break free; the droplets pit patting, pit patting, pit…pit…patting, the grey concrete paving stones. Tapping out a plot, a rhythm rich in meaning, just for me.

Twenty-four transient translucent authors, communicating amidst the jostling bustling hive of unaware humanity. Secretly, just to me.

Ego metamorphosis

Trapped in this skin,

A developed presence trying to break free,

From the lower back, up along the edges of the spine, over and around the middle of the head: a pulling, wrenching pressure.

Something long dormant has awoken,

Cracking the thick, drying skin,

Snapping the taught sinew and corded muscle,

Breaking brittle bone, relieving tension.

Emerging, curled up, soft and rumpled folds;

A new body, a fresh wisdom and refined ego, stretching and extending, filling this old space with something new, hungry and invigorated.

The fortress nursery

I am a play-acting leader wandering aimlessly,

Trudging up and down each ridge and valley,

Marching headstrong on twisted paths unknowing;

Eager to say ‘Here is the way, follow me.’

 

I set off young, ill-equipped, and eagerly,

To a distant snow-capped peak I aimed to journey,

Heavy burdensome pack filled to overflowing;

Doubt, inexperience, arrogant insecurity.

 

In each palm five tiny digits clasped firmly,

My delightful, loving, innocent responsibility,

Yet cradled deep within another growing;

Swaddled in armoured layers deceptively.

 

I now know I am the king of a fortress nursery,

Revealed to me by their lips curled mockingly,

To veiled contempt, through muffled laughter owing;

They all scorn the child I refused to see.

 

Now too great the burden’s intensity,

A suffocating pack and no hands free,

Foundation’s cracked, there is no more going;

Deep within a child cries desperately.

 

In this storm of clear and urgent necessity,

Heed those mocking faces – growth requires honesty –

King’s garments stripped as the tempest continues blowing;

I, reborn and naked before you, stand awkwardly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyrics #1 – The Grudge – by Tool

Check out video here.

Check out lyric interpretations here.

Writers: Adam Jones, Daniel Carey, Maynard Keenan, Justin Chancellor

The Grudge

Wear the grudge like a crown of negativity.
Calculate what we will or will not tolerate.
Desperate to control all and everything.
Unable to forgive your scarlet lettermen.Clutch it like a cornerstone. Otherwise it all comes down.
Justify denials and grip ’em to the lonesome end.
Clutch it like a cornerstone. Otherwise it all comes down.
Terrified of being wrong. Ultimatum prison cell.Saturn ascends, choose one or ten. Hang on or be humbled again.
Humbled again.Clutch it like a cornerstone. Otherwise it all comes down.
Justify denials and grip ’em to the lonesome end.
Saturn ascends, comes round again.
Saturn ascends, the one, the ten. Ignorant to the damage done.

Wear the grudge like a crown of negativity.
Calculate what we will or will not tolerate.
Desperate to control all and everything.
Unable to forgive your scarlet lettermen.

Wear the grudge like a crown. Desperate to control.
Unable to forgive. And sinking deeper.

Defining, confining, sinking deeper.
Controlling, defining, and we’re sinking deeper.

Saturn comes back around to show you everything
Let’s you choose what you will, will not see and then
Drags you down like a stone or lifts you up again
Spits you out like a child, light and innocent.

Saturn comes back around. Lifts you up like a child
Or drags you down like a stone to
Consume you till you choose to let this go.
Choose to let this go.

Give away the stone. Let the oceans take and
Transmutate this cold and fated anchor.
Give away the stone. Let the waters kiss and
Transmutate these leaden grudges into gold.
Let go.

Narrative seeds

Severed narratives. Ego, understanding, security, perspective, ripped asunder.

Open, festering, emotional wounds.

Who am I?

With what do I build again? How do I see again? Where does the nightmare end and the future begin?

I repeat: where does the nightmare end and the future begin?

Optimistically uncertain. But afraid. Nervous. What parts of the old me are worth holding onto? Which bits scattered afield should I collect, pick up and place in my bucket, to be cleaned and reassembled?

I survey the fields. Empty. In need of nourishment. I survey the fields. A hollow shell.

Who am I?

A father. Aye! A father! I am that. Indeed I am. And what else? A fighter. Aye! A fighter! I do indeed care enough to fight. And what else? Alive. Aye! Breath still enters these lungs. And what else? Principled. Yes. I am grounded in principles.

And what are those principles? What grounds me?

Truth. Yes truth, and self-awareness. Avoid, at all costs, self-deception, willing blindness. Avoid, at all costs, refusal to peer within and assess, comprehend what you see.

This aids truth.

Truth. Yes truth, and respect from others. Accept only so much deceit before moving on. People lie for any number of reasons. You have the power, the right, to move on, to no longer accept partnership, subjection, to another’s consistent lying.

This aids truth.

Truth. Yes truth, and forgiveness. Understand we all, everyone of us, make mistakes, are sometimes led down dark corridors, can lose our true paths. Forgive others and forgive yourself, but never forget. Don’t become naive. Don’t blind yourself. You can forgive, but you must not allow yourself to become the victim of another’s consistent, disrespectful, harmful actions and words.

This aids truth.

Truth. Yes truth, and self-confidence. You are as capable and as good as you currently are. Have you reached your potential? Continue the struggle with confidence, head held high, looking skyward, until you do. You are only as capable and as good as you currently are, and nobody can ask more of you at any given moment than that, including yourself. There is no reason to get down on yourself. Control only what is in your power to control. The hand you were dealt belongs to a cosmic lottery, the same one played by every single person who exists or has ever existed or who will ever exist. Compare not with envy and longing yourself to others, but look hard into your own eyes and find where you can and are willing to improve. Control only what you can control, with confidence.

This aids truth.

The nightmare ends, and the future begins, at truth.

Not so hollow after all. I survey these fields, life-giving, life-affirming seeds in hand.

Quote #1

I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another. – Henry David Thoreau

Connections

There a seed, and a little tree. There a brook, and rolling rocks. I see sky and birds and fluttering monarchs. I hear the field frog sing. There, moths circle the light, and congregate around the bulb, while dusk brings the chorus of crickets to life.

I rest my feet in the coolness of the lake and watch as the fish, like shadows of airplanes, soar beneath.

Not only in the air can one fly.

This world is as deep, and as lovely, as her eyes.

Morning vespers

I crave the morn. The crystal dew on the petals of an opening rose. The dripping drops of water from the thorns – a ladder of leaking faucets.

There is a comfort to the sun’s early slanting rays; they cast a warm and magical spell. Belief in rebirth; that first draught of fresh clean air; awe, and to be filled with optimistic confidence – these are the gifts of rising with our morning star.

Rest moon, rest.

You’ll be here longer than I.

It is my time,

My time moon,

It is my time to shine.

Sink to your hole in the sea and close those cavernous eyes,

And remember when the sun and I go to bed,

It will be your time to rise.

 

Lullaby

Sing me softly to sleep life,

Let all my dreams drip into days,

Let love and joy fill me life,

Till death takes me gently away.

Sing me softly to sleep life,

And never let me wake.

Life

Life. Beautiful and tragic and absurd. We are unlikely fleeting nodes of structured matter, atoms arranged through increasing universal entropy, taking the form of great apes encoded in DNA; living, loving, suffering, pondering, overcoming, dying, waltzing ever-long in a cosmic embrace between order and chaos.

Positive pride: a remedy for hate

Hate, anger, jealousy need to be expressed. They do not, however, command such respect. They definitely do not need to be heeded. They want justification to exist. Well they have it! What more could they possibly want, why are they so insatiable? What could satisfy them? I imagine, not much.

I wonder: What if the whole world felt my pain, your pain? Felt sorry? Would that placate hate and anger? What if half the world felt it? A quarter? A single country? Your community? My street? A neighbour? Simply just you? Just me? Where does it begin, where does it end?

What do hate and anger want? To hurt? To hurt others? Me? You? To dine at the table of vengeance? And then what? Reduce the target of their existence to a heap of guilt, of ridicule and tears. Vengeance smells sweet, looks pleasing, but how does it taste? Bitter? Take the pain and inflict it a hundred fold. Would that act, that behaviour, lead to anything good, respectable, positive, forward thinking, upward looking?

Oh, I believe the act itself could feel good, cathartic, for a fraction of a moment. The consequences, not as much. I do not want to be enslaved by these emotions. Quite frankly, they do not become me, and they are tedious companions, exhausting. The desires whispered in my ear by hate and anger, the goals they think they would achieve, would never come to pass. They appear only to want to salvage pride, the ego.

Egoistic pride isn’t worth the effort. Egoistic pride can be hurt. But there is a type of pride to nurture, a positive, illuminating, motivating pride. Beneficial pride is progressive, not regressive, a spring of confidence and optimism, not a blanket for insecurity and doubt.

Beneficial pride cannot be hurt, does not bend to the whims of negativity. Deep abiding pride heeds not insults, nor affronts. Positive pride belongs to a confident soul; it is the engine of the motivation to do well, to do good for oneself and one’s community.

Positive pride is a monument to just deeds and deserved recognition, a stopping point on one’s life path, a sign-post, forever accessible on one’s journey, pointing forward, ever forward.

Positive pride says ‘saddle up, there is the way, you’ve made it this far, there is your way…onward! Onward, life traveler.’

Is it not said that ‘pride commeth before the fall’? This is the pride protecting the ego, leading to hubris, to overconfidence. This is the pride that can be vengeful, because it can be hurt, can become resentful and hateful. The good pride of which I speak is related to the feeling one has of good deeds attempted and desirable outcomes achieved, of the fleeting yet reinforcing admiration of others, by doing and achieving deeds and outcomes deemed worthy by yourself and the community. It is not pride that inflates the ego, that feeds off selfishness, that feeds selfishness in turn; it is the pride that indicates, that signals, that one is on the right path, a good direction. It is a road-mark, a checkpoint, a milestone. Beneficial pride is but a shadow cast by good deeds, an after-glow, an impression of great things on one’s emotional fabric.

To have a sense of pride is not a bad thing. Positive pride cannot possibly be dirtied or defiled or hurt in any way. It is but a corollary of good actions attempted and good outcomes achieved. It does not hang around, seeking undue admiration. It is not a garb to be worn defensively by one’s ego. It is not even a thing, in and of itself, for it cannot exist without the actions and results in whose presence it is cast. Beneficial pride is utterly dependent. It has to be earned, continually, through deeds confidently taken, outcomes deliciously obtained.

Positive pride is a shadow, and a shadow cannot be harmed.

Hatred and anger need a foil for their existence, they need a target for their justification. They are vengeful, spiteful emotions that want to inflict pain. Hatred does not point anywhere positive. Anger is all consuming, fueled by the positive essence of one’s being. Anger will burn until that essence is all used up. The only benefit of these emotions is to draw attention to potential and actual threats to oneself and one’s community. Many things are not okay. There is much vice and immorality in the world- Hatred and anger can draw attention to morally suspect realities, can motivate the identification, combating, and remediation of bad things. If bad things go unchallenged, the world is worse off. Hatred and anger are two emotions that motivate the challenge of bad things.

But hatred, anger, jealousy, can so easily lead to ruin, for oneself and others. The outcomes they effect may very well be out of all proportion to their cause. And what kind of outcome should one wish to effect, if not a positive one? What kind of outcome, that cannot possibly be positive, is desirable at all? We are no longer members of wandering bands of proto-humans. Anger and hatred have little reason to exist today, as our survival no longer depends on them. But our egos do! Our egos, if weak, dine on hatred, drink of pain.

Am I hurting? Are you? Yes. We all are, or will be, or have been. Would reducing the source of your pain, the target of our hatred, to an emotional mess, disgracing it in the eyes of the community, serve any positive end? No.

It is extremely selfish to think my pain, the motivation behind any form of vengeance, is more valuable, more worthy, than the pain and suffering my vengeance would create. What actually would I be avenging? My sense of egoistic pride? But that is not worth fighting for.

A strong sense of ego cannot be dismantled nor destroyed by anything external. A strong ego is forward thinking, upward looking, impervious to wrongs committed, yet not naive. A strong ego knows life brings many challenges, but that striving for good for oneself and one’s community is the highest, the most noble path. Take pride in leaving sign-posts and monuments along your path, provided they teach valuable lessons, distill wisdom, and point forward, ever forward.