A Principle Bigger Than Us All

I’ve spent the past two years writing on this blog (often not well) hoping to find some answers and hoping that maybe others would find some truth in my truth. I’ve had some pretty crazy experiences lately that have made me realize just how contracted my life has been. In these twenty four years I’ve been given the privilege of seeing and living many different kinds of lives. I’ve been the athlete. I’ve been the jock. I’ve been the ladies man. I’ve been the rock-star. I’ve been the ‘genius’. I’ve been the inspiration. I’ve been the loser. I’ve been friendless. I’ve been despised. I’ve been stupid. I’ve been the cripple and the burden. I’ve lived with hundreds of friends, and an in-tact family, and I’ve lived with zero friends and no family.

There’s this Becket quote that I like: there’s man all over for you, blaming on his shoes the fault of his feet. We always try to look for some meaning in the madness; some purpose. It’s an inherently human thing to do. We all at one point think that there is some great purpose for us;  that we’re some integral part of this grand design. We all hop we’re that special, and that’s one of those hopes that’s truly difficult to break away from, and incredibly hard to lose.

When I think about my purpose, and how ‘important’ I must be, I think about the disabled children abandoned because their parents didn’t want them; something that’s less frequent now, but incredibly common in the past. What about the kids and adults right now starving to death. What about the people slain for no reason but to satiate some sick sadistic warlord or sociopaths desires? When I think about these people I find it very difficult to see the great meaning in their lives. And I find it even more difficult to justify my desire to find one in my own.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me, but like everyone else I have a fairly general idea of the direction I’m headed in. I know that I’m going to have surgery on my spine to treat my Syrinx. I know that I’m going to remain disabled. I know that things are going to remain hard. When I think of my future I am stressed, but it’s not the surgery or the disability that make me feel stressed, it’s the lack of support and connection with others. And it’s the knowledge that the family I do have left aren’t going to make the world a much better place.

Recently my brother moved out, leaving me and my dog alone in this apartment. It’s made me really feel worthless, and really question the belief I used to have that I could find purpose and meaning. It was the hope that my brother would see my world and it would make him a better person that gave me purpose (I know that if I were magically cured right now I would go on to do wonderful things; the stuff that used to stress me out and prevent me from fulfilling my potential (the insecurity, the money-stress) pales in comparison to the stress of not being able to walk, or work, or really live. And so I thought perhaps it was logical to conclude that since he’s healthy, he could take that truth and completely transform his life; he could do the good things he is capable of doing). But now I  don’t know. It’s the actions that people make and the things that people believe and do that determine if the world is just and good. People make the meaning and purpose, not fate, not the ‘gods’, and certainly not ourselves. A person may be able to will themselves to greatness, but how you define greatness and the metrics you use to measure it might reveal that the greatest thing is to be good, not rich, or envied, or feared. Take the Kennedy family. Many revere them, and are inspired by them. But many people don’t know about Rose Kennedy. They had her lobotomized, and then institutionalized for life. She was very rarely visited. She was alone, to suffer and live out her existence; a causality for the greatness of others. And for what? Did the Kennedy’s change the world forever? Or was their greatness just as fleeting as the law student who passes his Bar, or my brother who gets the raise he’s been working towards.

The things we desire so much in this world are fleeting. I wanted nothing more than a nice car and fame when I was a kid. I pictured myself loved and wealthy. I am so far removed from that future I once longed for. If you had told my 14 year old self that in ten years I’d be disabled, in chronic pain, completely abandoned and alone, with too many scars to count, you would have crippled me. But I’m glad in some weird way that this has happened to me. It’s given me the privilege of seeing what it means to truly have a meaningful life. I am able to bear being sick and disabled and having such an uncertain future. I can find the good in those things and they are experiences and lives that I can use to paint a broader narrative with. It’s the lack of social connection. The lack of love and that opportunity to make someone better than yourself that comes with being in a family that makes me feel like nothing matters and I can’t possibly move on.

If my life has some purpose perhaps it’s to share that one small truth: being good (moral and virtuous – loyal, empathetic, temperant, prudent, just) and investing your future in others is the thing we need most in this life, and the thing we cannot live without. We can survive, and often thrive, without painlessness, without mobility, and without health. We cannot survive for very long (and we cannot really, truly thrive) without the meaning and the purpose relationships and connection to and with good people provides. It sucks going through hard things alone. But it sucks infinitely more going through them needlessly. Like Rose Kennedy, I don’t have to go through this stuff. It’s not actually going through it that stings the most (like I said before, humans are incredibly resilient), it’s the reason why I have to go through it that does. And that reason is the reason why people feel like the world is a harsh place filled with meaningless suffering. For me, that reason is that my brothers don’t understand that being good and moral means being there for others. It means just supporting them and loving them; calling them when they’re ill, trying to help them, and trying to learn from them. So that they can feel better, so that I can feel better, yes, but also so that anyone could feel better. It’s the principle that matters, not my particular happiness. It’s that my brothers don’t grasp that principle that makes me feel like my life is pointless and thus that life is pointless (their lives included, especially). I want to be happy, but I want them to want me to be happy more. Not just for me, but because it’s the right thing. I want them to get that one point. That being strong means going through hard things but remaining good. That the glory we can achieve in this life and the purpose we can find in some grand picture of some complex design cannot matter if there are people who are left in our wake starving, dying, and being killed. We can’t prescribe universal rights unless everyone has access to them. The world is harsh and life is often very difficult and unforgiving, but if people are good, and get that one main principle (being moral, and virtuous and supporting and learning from others) than even the most apparently meaningless fate can be transformed into the most meaningful one.

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The Truths: people don’t actually matter that much.

The importance of a proper education:

I grew up with this burning feeling of entitlement that followed me everywhere, like a friend you don’t really want most of the time, but who is always there no matter what. It was an unhealthy relationship; Entitlement made me king, and I did whatever he asked. As a child I was constantly fishing for compliments, and was quick to anger if I wasn’t in the spotlight during every conversation. I couldn’t take critique, nor could I stand rejection. I was endlessly ignorant and hopelessly insecure. This pattern of behavior resulted in my friends and family pushing me away, and ensured that I certainly would not be the center of anyone’s attention. This realization made me feel even more angry and entitled. It was a really crummy cycle that lasted almost twenty one years.

I never worked hard at anything. I have a natural gift for music, and fell in love with the guitar at an early age. I never really practiced on my own (although I loved to tell people I practiced ‘two hours a day’), but I was naturally good enough that most people never caught on. I even managed to secure a position teaching part-time at this musical academy when I was sixteen years old. I played in a few bands and wrote half a dozen songs or so. I never played for the sake of playing. I played solely for the title and the recognition.

I often project myself onto others. As a child, I always gauged how others felt based upon how I would react in that very same situation. My family seems to have quite a knack for that – a huge part in why we all hate each other (as ironic as that is). I think at the heart of that projection is a selfish mass of cells, quickly infecting everything and everyone it meets.

I was always the ‘class clown’; a born vaudevillian. I would do anything for a laugh; anything. As a result of my efforts, I lost a lot of friends, and quickly gained a pretty shitty reputation. By high-school none of my friend’s parents wanted their kids to hang out with me. All of my teachers in high-school hated me, and I spent more time trying to convince other’s of my worth, than I did working to prove it. When someone had a bad opinion of me, I hated them for it; I knew exactly why they were wrong, and just how stupid they were for it.

I hate when people say ‘we live in a time where’… I haven’t done a meta analysis of the macro-level ebb and flow of society, so I am in no way authorized to make any such claims. All I can say is that right now I live in a time where I can interact with hundreds of people on the other side of the earth in the time it takes to pour a cup of juice. If I want, I can sit back and watch hours upon hours of video footage uploaded to an online community by members of almost every race, religion, society and country. I don’t know what anyone else is thinking, or what motivates them internally to choose the paths they chose, or what external factors have forced them down the road less traveled. I don’t even really know my own life, or who I am.

The way we feel things is not a good way to define what those things are.

I do not accept the premise that we are born with an essence, and that life is just this bland journey to figure out precisely who we are. That’s like a really bad Disney movie (probably involving a golden retriever with a predilection for playing ‘sport’). I think that I am constantly changing, and constantly refining myself. A great deal of who I am is both largely unknown to me, and lost in the memories I will never remember. If I had the answers to all those questions (like who I ‘really’ am, and ‘how I became that way’), I don’t think my life would be any easier.

There are only a few things that I know for certain are true. I know that I’m not important – at all. I know that when I die, I will most likely be forgotten. I know that I am infinitely stupid, and I know that I am constrained by my own biology just as much as I am by my culture and my society. I think there is nothing profound which separates myself from the animals, although I understand that people are ‘programmed’ to think in terms almost exclusively of themselves. I think that our need to see ourselves taken after, and wanted, and loved, comes from a place of ego and delusion. I don’t deserve love, or money, or shelter, or any of the things I get. I don’t deserve to be beaten down like an animal, either… but I do not deserve this excess that I have. Even though I have hardships in my life few will ever experience, I know how fortunate and how lucky I am.

I live next-door to a family of self-centered, ignorant character, deluded by the prospect that if their completely bull-shit, arbitrary requirements for ‘living’ were met, they’d strike gold again, and again, and again. What I’m  doing is not the sine qua non of meaning. The moment in which we shed this illusion is the precise moment that our lives actually begin.

Imagine a world without (for the most part) an entitled generation of lazy narcissists who think every step they take is this great terrestrial moon-landing. Imagine making a great cup of coffee only meant that you were left with a great cup of coffee to drink. Imagine a world where reporting what shop a celebrity left was considered creepy, rather than entertainment. Imagine all the shit we could get done if it didn’t take twenty years to realize how insignificant we are? Imagine a world where we have finally accepted that every feeling actually doesn’t need to be shared, and every impulse entertained. We are betrayed by our motivations and emotions all the time.

In conclusion, through much pain and suffering I have learned to question what it means to be happy and content. I have learned that the often black and white ideals I hold as standards for behavior are as much the product of understanding as the big-bang theory is  the result of comedic genius. (Which is a very pretentious way of saying ‘I haven’t got a fucking clue’.) I don’t know every answer, and I only really know a tiny fraction of the questions. But I know that I’m not all that important, and that no one will remember me for ‘who I really am’. That small fact was powerful enough to change my entire view of my life, and of life itself. If you live life with that thought constantly consuming your mind, you will treat people more nicely, have much more realistic expectations, and be much more open to change and hard work. Once you accept that no one is inherently important, you will begin to understand the true meaning of equality.

p.s.: if the world exploded tomorrow and every person was destroyed – along with all the evidence of people altogether – do you really think the people who believe they are so important and powerful will somehow emerge unscathed? As if existence alone etches their very essence into the fabric of our universe? No, the answer is no. They die and are forgotten, just like everyone else. You’re not born more important than anyone else, so grow the fuck up and do something with your life.   

My Life of Fear:

Fear is a big part of my life – more in the vein of competition rather than oppression. I have a lot of fears in my life, and a great portion of my day is spent being afraid of different things. Those moments, however few or fleeting, can be extremely useful if you have the courage to try and really roll up your sleeves and get to the root of the problem.

I have written quite a lot on the topic of fear, and while I feel comfortable with all that I have learned so far, I still yearn for more answers. I don’t think there is one absolute truth out there for anything; I  don’t believe in an absolute ‘hockey standard’, or  a ‘fashion truth’. I don’t believe in any type of ‘abstract’, objective standard of perfection. But I do think that we can find answers to many of the questions which we have. I think that each individual person is walking a completely different path from their fellow man, and as such, they will see ‘truth’ in a different context than everyone else. Our world is proof of this: there are Christians who are absolutely convinced of Christ, and atheists who deny his existence completely (as a spiritual being). I’m not saying I think everything is relative, and I don’t think supporting the idea that individuality extends well beyond our vain, egotistical values commits me to any form of post-modernism. I just sincerely believe that the amount of ‘stuff’ out there (facts, truths, things, events, future events, possible events) is infinitely larger than our minds can grasp. And I find an extreme sense of comfort in knowing that.

The particular question I have been obsessed with lately is this: how can I overcome fear. Overcoming fear doesn’t mean feeling absolutely no fear, but, for me, it means having an overarching understanding of fear, and all of the different ways of understanding fear. I think we can look for truth in many directions, and find incredibly satisfactory answers. But I don’t think those branches all converge onto one fact, or principle, or set of truths. I also think that our species is stupid and limited. We are beautiful and amazing, don’t get me wrong. But now that we don’t fear for our lives on a daily basis, we have food and shelter and disposable income, we have begun to fully grasp just how limited we are, intellectually.

It’s weird how our brains work. We see patterns and we see redundancies for patterns, and our brains work tirelessly behind the scenes interpreting and sifting through these patterns. As a result, answers often come from places we would never even think to look. This is called the Butterfly Effect.  I bring this up because this very phenomenon happened to me recently, and it dramatically changed (and improved) my understanding of fear.

I was reading the famed ‘Ender’s Game’ series (I’m currently reading ‘speaker for the dead’), and although almost everything in those books has had a tremendous impact on my perspective, there was one part in particular that really connected with me. Ender was talking to an artificial intelligence and they got on the topic of emotions. The AI said that emotions were something she did not understand, as they are a direct product of our evolution – that’s why we share these emotions with animals. She said that she had been created, and so as a result she finds it very difficult to ‘feel’ the way that humans do. And that’s what got me.

When I stripped everything down, ultimately my fear was rooted in this feeling of mourning that things just hadn’t turned out ‘right’. I thought that there was some ultimate objective standard, and that fear itself derives objective existence from the concept of ‘well-being’. That insofar as life is better than death, death is a bad thing, and should, ought, to be feared. But why is that true? Why are the metaphorical, dark images which come to my mind when I’m afraid ‘bad’? Why is darkness ‘bad’? Why is ’empty space’, scary? The fact of the matter is, they aren’t. I find a crisp, clear summer day on a tropical island beautiful. But, perhaps to another creature, or even to another person, darkness is beautiful, and emptiness is beautiful.

Sure death sucks, and I can accept the fact that I will probably never rationally welcome death with open arms, but that fact does not commit me to the position that says fear has inherent existence and should rightly be feared.  Fear does not exist, it just exists in us. It is incredibly complex, and if I try to surmise exactly what fear is in one, succinct sentence, I will fail. But fear is not real. It is a product of our evoultionary history, consciousness, our minds. Fear is as much a part of us as our arm, or leg. Evolution created fear, not the other way around.

I was thinking about this the other day: what would really happen if I gave up fear altogether. What if I were a soldier in battle, and as the enemy charged I threw caution to the wind and met them in pace and in spirit. And do you know what my very next thought was? I shit you not, “what if I just died directly after that. What if after throwing caution to the wind and meeting my enemy in battle I am instantly killed? What if my death is that unceremonious?”. What the fuck kind of disillusioned thinking is that? I decide to give up fear, but then the very next scene, the scene enshrined by both logic and reason, is a scene born of fear. What are the chances that I would just instantly die, unceremoniously directly after I give up my fear? Is that really an even balance of all the options?

See, that’s what fear does. Fear makes you think like there’s no other way out. It makes you see one single story, and then live by that story. Maybe in our evolutionary past this was adaptive (maybe that’s not even relevant), but now it’s not. Fear goes by another name: Barabbas. Fear can go fuck itself. We don’t need to let fear control us. You will not find that control in any religion, you will only shift the control from fear to God. The whole point of this rambling essay is to communicate that you can in fact let go of fear. You have to make that decision. It’s not going to be easy. You may feel slightly informed and maybe partially inspired after reading this, but your journey is far from over.

A few parting tips:
  • Turn everything into a challenge. Life will be much less threatening if you realize you’re a competitor. 
  • Accept your inevitable death. You’ll never truly get a grip on fear if you constantly entertain the delusion that you’re immortal.
  • Shed your fucking ego: chances are, you will not be remembered long after your death. Find how empowering that is. Empowering in the sense that at the moment you realize how insignificant you truly are, you will finally see how much work you have to do to get where you thought you were going.
  • Stop being so entitled: like I said, you’re going to be forgotten when you die. That means that no one will remember except for your family. This is why Eric Harris did what he did; he wanted a shot at immortality. Don’t do that. Instead, do everything you can to be remembered once you die – for positive reasons. At the very least, after your gone people will have a whole lot of respect for you. And there are few more comforting thoughts than that.
  • Work hard: work when no ones looking. If you work for recognition only, than you really didn’t grasp the last four points at all.
  • Be nice and kind to others. Fear leads people to do horrible things, and transforms people into horrible little mirages. If your afraid, run in the opposite direction. Be as nice and kind as you can, and I guarantee you, your fear lose that intensity.

Words Of The Day:

acme (noun): the point at which something is perfect or most successful; zenith.

accouter (tr. verb): to equip or clothe, esp. in military usage.

coda (noun): concluding passage or movement.

cognomen (noun): typically, by Roman convention,  the third name of a citizen of ancient Rome

imprimatur (noun):  A license given by the R.C. Church of approval to print a religious text or book. 

menagerie (noun): a zoo; a strange/ diverse collection esp. of animals/ living creatures.

minutiae (noun): a small or trivial detail

sundry (adj./noun): various or miscellaneous; of various items not important enough to name individually.

misanthropy (noun): a hatred, distrust or disdain of mankind; avoidance of human society.

miscegenation (verb): interracial marriage, esp. of racism and laws banning interracial marriage and copulation (use today considered very offensive, and on some grounds may constitute hate speech)

Words Of The Day:

Bereft (adj.): deprived of or lacking in something.

Words have a power all their own

Words have a power all their own (Photo credit: Lynne Hand)

Balky (adj.): hesitant; reluctant.

Bane (noun): a cause of great distress; nuisance… esp. in relation to Bat-man…

Bemoan (verb): lament; express sorrow over.

Belfry (noun): bell tower esp. in a church.

Baleful (adj.): hostile, belligerent; threatening harm.

Bequest (verb): will; a legacy.

Bandy (verb/adj./noun): exchange/ pass on in a casual manner; a game akin to field hockey; ‘wide or bandy in the knees’.

Beguile (verb): trick/ charm; esp. in a deceptive manner.

Bravado (adj.): feigned bravery esp. to impress/ intimidate.

 

 

Words Of The Day:

acrimonious (adj.): angry/ bitter esp.  of speech 

acrophobia (noun): fear of heights. books

acquiesce (verb): agree passively. 

adjourn (verb): suspend/ break off with the intention of resuming later; go somewhere for refreshment (adjourn at a local pub). 

adonis (noun): a beautiful man esp. in Greek mythology.

accrete (verb): grow/ form by gradual accumulation 

argot (noun): specialized jargon of a particular group or profession. 

assuage (verb): reduce an unpleasant feeling esp. physical pain. 

asunder (adverb): apart/ divided. 

aspersion (noun) : slander/ libel/ defamation. 

artifice (noun): trick/ ruse/ wile esp. to deceive others. 

armistice (noun): truce esp. in wartime. 

au courant (adj.): up to date/ aware of what is going on; well informed.

augur (verb): portend negative or positive outcomes; predict.