July 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
The Summer has flown in, and whilst I’ve enjoyed warm, sleepy days doing, well, not very much at all, I’ve always felt a faintly nagging sense of guilt for being idle. These feelings can and have been thrown for periods, but it always resides there, behind everything. The fact that I haven’t updated this blog for nearly three weeks is one of these ‘nags’, sorting out study courses for next year and not taking more photographs are more. I think balance is important in everything; productivity and leisure not excluded. In this post, I’ll be exploring idleness, and the nature of this balance, as well as its direct connection with our well-being.
“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” -Thessalonians 3:11
Admittedly, the title quote means something entirely different from my use of it. It has its routes in Scripture. While the Church is preoccupied with sin, and how idleness can, in fact, lead one there, I’m more focussed on the humanistic side of things; I do not believe that we hold accountability to anyone/anything but ourselves. Perhaps, metaphorically, this devil is ‘unhappiness’. What a devil that is…yet we cannot truly escape it. Not entirely. Unhappiness is transient, like all things. But there are a few things that can extend its stay, and I suppose the main point this post makes is that idleness is one of them.
In a previous post, I talked about the importance of being ‘in flow’, of total immersion in the moment. Thoughts that might otherwise hijack our emotional state dissolve into the sidelines as our main focus becomes our world, and we essentially lose our sense of self, if for a brief moment. Idleness, then, is the antithesis to being ‘in flow’. Your thoughts become your world, and DO hijack your emotional state. We’ve all experienced this; running through the same negative thought patterns and imagining the worst case scenario, something psychologists call catastrophising.
So, do whatever puts you in an ‘in flow’ state. Writing? Running? Working on your car? Whatever it is, being ‘in flow’ is so important to our well-being, and being stuck in an idle rut reduces our opportunities to experience it. By the way, while getting off your ass and going outside is a surefire way to deal with idleness, I’m not necessarily saying that’s the only measure. We can easily work on productive pursuits and activities indoors, and many of us (especially fellow introverts!) prefer this. While socialising a few times a week is kinda necessary for your mental health, being alone is not the same issue as being idle.
I’ll save you all from too much of my pseudo-scientific evolutionary babble, and cut it short. We’re all programmed to progress. Too much time spent in idleness is missed opportunities and stagnation, and in a time when our periods of leisure has dramatically increased, and yet our mental health is significantly worsened, it only takes putting 2 and 2 together to see the harmful effects of idleness. Often we’ll feel stuck, without any motivation to be productive or engage with the world. This can also spiral to depressive periods, which are often entirely avoidable, issues that medication might simply complicate.
Discipline and routine – boring, repetitive and dull are words that might come to mind. These things have become extremely stigmatised in a world where we’re told to ‘follow our hearts and dreams’ and ‘do what you love’. I have a wake up call for you; you won’t get very much done at all if you solely rely on motivation and inspiration. Millions of people start diets and exercise regimes, and the majority ultimately fail. Why? Because they lose their very short-lived motivation, and overlooked the necessity of discipline which, unlike motivation, is entirely controllable. Forcing ourselves into action, day in, day out, is vital for any results or progression. Motivation, you often find, comes further down the line.
Turn whatever it is you strive to do more into an unconditional. Most of us get up for work, get dressed, and spend 8 hours wherever, even if we like it or despise it, simply because the repercussions are too high if we didn’t. If we’re forcing ourselves to do something we might hate, I’m sure you can force yourself to do something you love. Rely on that routine that, if broken, feelings of guilt will be inevitable. Try out Chains.cc, an app that counts how many days you stick to something (be it exercise, or something creative or productive). Trust me, the feelings of pride and accomplishment will be worth it.
June 16, 2014 § 1 Comment
Birds chitter in the forest canopy overhead, their songs intermingling in delightful cacophony. You breathe deeply, slowly, savouring the earthy, fresh woodland aromas. A few lucky rays of sun reach your face, bringing a welcome warmth.
You hunch over your latest project with a furious concentration. In those moments, it is all consuming, and there is nothing but it. In a moment of miraculous serendipity, something just ‘clicks’ and everything falls into place.
These are all moments that stay with us throughout our lives. Moments of complete and utter immersion in the experience, moments that utterly disregard our fears and worries, when we are at our happiest and least burdened. It’s the state of being ‘in flow‘, of complete focus and rapture.
Mankind’s evolution towards our self-conscious state is responsible not only for our continued survival, but our thriving as a species. However, in an era where we seem to have more time to worry and more things to worry about, our state of ‘self-consciousness’ can often feel like a burden. Our mind niggles away at us, and we often find that we second-guess ourselves, imagining problems and issues that will never come to be. These patterns of thought can often lead to health issues such as anxiety and depression. When faced with such risks, then, it is vital that we take responsibility for our thoughts, and strive to immerse ourselves in our own experience more often. How do we go about this?
1. Stop Fighting Your Thoughts
Have you ever tried to fall asleep and, just as you’re about to cross the border between reality and dream-land, seemingly sabotaging thoughts like “I’ll never get to sleep” or “I’m not tired” pop into your mind. This triggers a cycle of thinking about trying to sleep, which entirely sabotages any chances of actually falling asleep. The same thing can be said about negative thought patterns. The more you fight thoughts that arise, the more attention you put towards such patterns, potentially worsening them. Not only that, but the cognitive dissonance experienced when you indulge in negative thinking yet vainly attempt to fight your thoughts worsens the situation, and potentially creates further feelings of inferiority and futility.
Over-thinking, over-analysing separates the body from the mind. Withering my intuition leaving opportunities behind. –Tool
Truthfully, you can’t stop every single negative thought that comes into your mind. Sure, you can choose not to indulge in them, but they’ll always be there. The key to dealing with them is to simply let them pass. ‘Is it that simple?’, you might ask? Pretty much! Understand that your thoughts do not define you, that they’re often wholly separate from ‘you’. Learn not to indulge or even fight your negative thoughts as they arise, but simply to observe them, and let them pass. The ‘reconceptualisation’ phase in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is somewhat similar, in that it challenges negative belief systems and patterns of thought. Mindfulness is another useful up-and-coming practice, mentioned here before, best described as:
…a kind of non-elaborative, non-judgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is. –Scott Bishop
2. Keep Yourself Busy
By that, I don’t mean ‘work 60+ hours a week until you collapse’. While this will distract you from your thoughts temporarily, your quality of life will be, like so many adults, lacking, due to various factors, chiefly stress. Keep your free time filled with activities that enrapture and excite you, that put you in this ‘in flow’ state, where you are too preoccupied with your ‘mission’ to over-think. Even the routine of exercise, whilst not ‘exciting’, is a hugely beneficial presence for both physical and mental well-being, as we’ve been told by countless scientists and experts, again and again.
If you prefer your own company, you don’t necessarily have to go out and socialise, but some social activities in short bursts can be beneficial, even for introverts. Your social networks are vital in being happy. Strive to surround yourself with people you admire, people who are happy and a positive influence in your life.
3. Use Action Instead of Rumination
If a thought simply keeps returning despite your attempts, sometimes the thought might have an element of truth to it that has been blown out of proportion. Perhaps you’re beating yourself up for not being productive, you experience feelings of isolation and loneliness, or you feel unfit and unattractive. Taking action in regards to such thoughts and feelings is absolutely vital. We often get stuck in an ‘analysis paralysis‘, where we expend a huge amount of mental energy over-analysing, but fail to take any actual practical measures in solving our problems.
In such a dilemma, the only solution is to spit in the face of your fears and take action. Leaving your comfort zone is difficult, sure, but once you take those steps you’ll feel a pride that can never be experienced by staying comfortable. Action for Happiness is an interesting online community movement that provides a good deal of support in pursuing happiness through action. Remember, you are not your thoughts. Try to keep this in mind as they arise. Observe them as the products of your imagination that they are, and you’ll find yourself a great deal happier.
June 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
One thing that we humans love is to divide and polarise; to dichotomise. If it’s good vs bad, happy or sad or logical and creative, polarising things in our lives and our world makes everything a lot more convenient and less confusing. In the post-modern era, we’ve taken to polarising the arts and the sciences so heavily that we’ve forgotten how they’re inherently interconnected, and deal with the same universal questions, albeit in different ways. The failure to see the parallels and the interconnectedness between art and science could very well be damaging to our efforts towards truth-seeking and awareness of the world around us. So how are they so similar, and why would realising this similarity be beneficial?
From Archimedes to Da Vinci to Benjamin Franklin, some of the world’s most brilliant minds have been artists and scientists, both. So many of the world’s greatest visionaries and inventors have achieved their greatest work through moments of intuitive clarity; flashes of illumination such as Archimedes’ famous ‘Eureka!’ moment when, as he lowered himself into his bath, Archimedes noticed the water level rising, and realised the displaced water rose according to his body volume. Great creative works that lead to revolutionary artistic movements – Filippo Brunelleschi’s development of linear perspective, Da Vinci’s anatomical research and Picasso’s Cubist work, for example – are similarly inspired by this almost indefinable spark of imagination and inspiration.
Where, then, does this similarity stem from? To start with, we’ll take a scientific approach (meta-analysis much?). Pop culture and psychology often incorrectly states that the brain is functionally lateralised. That is, functions are designated to either the left or right brain hemispheres, most often that the right side functions logically and the left side creatively. Recent science has thoroughly debunked this idea, however. Take a look at this article that studies problem-solving dealing with insight and creating connections – the kind of problem solving that, perhaps, greats like Archimedes or Einstein used in their revelations.
The study shows that the superior temporal gyrus (STG) – a region of the brain in the right hemisphere, the side traditionally linked with creativity – was significantly activated. Another article displays the brain activation during moments of creativity. It shows three complex networks across both hemispheres of the brain being vital in creative functions. The conclusion? Eureka moments – responsible for so many of the revelations in science and art throughout history – stem from a creative function in the right side of the brain, and both logic and creativity utilise complex connections across both hemispheres of the brain.
Philosophically, even artistically, the fundamental similarity between the arts and sciences is that at their hearts lies mystery. The mystery of human beings, love, life and the universe all drive our need to express ourselves through art, and inform ourselves through science. Einstein said it best when he stated “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” It would be an outright lie to say art and science are the same. They’re not; science seeks to empirically analyse the natural world, whereas art marvels in its wonder. However, they both seek understanding, and therefore pursue truth in the face of the astounding mysteries of the universe. This understanding is not a mere whimsical moment of intellectual masturbation. It’s one that has a serious, practical relationship with the real world, as Michelle and Robert-Root Bernstein state so eloquently below (Psychology Today):
But what do our students typically get, especially in high school and college? They get math without music. They get science without images, feelings and intuition. They get knowledge without imagination. Not only does intuition go undeveloped, many math and science teachers do not give credit to answers (even though they may be correct) that are not explicated by detailed logic.
So what is the end point to this? It’s all very well to revel in the mysterious, as well as the beautiful and profound connection between art and science, but we need action, and that action is educational reformation. Mathematics and the natural sciences, subjects that form the foundation of our understanding of the universe and it’s (unravelling) mysteries are taught so formulaically, so dispassionately, is it any wonder that these subjects are generally performed poorly at high school level, and the S.T.E.M fields garner less undergraduates? These subjects can be intriguing, inspiring, and the beauty in their connections or even physical manifestations can be almost artistic. It’s time, I think, that we treat them accordingly.
May 17, 2014 § 3 Comments
What it isn’t
Enlightenment; it’s a word that holds near-mythical connotations. It summons the image of beings that have transcended ignorance and suffering, having achieved a state of pure bliss and harmony. We imagine a moment of clear, brilliant clarity that changes everything about our lives and our perception of it. The very concept is so muddled by contradictory ideas coming from a range of sources that all we think we know is that it’s something special and obtainable, but only very special people who put in the utmost of effort to obtain it ever do.
You know what? We buy into it. Even if we didn’t even know the word ‘enlightenment’, we strive towards achieving some state of ultimate self, void of suffering and unhappiness. Hundreds of thousands of us – as the booming spiritual self-help industry can attest – buy into this idea of enlightenment. We spend a small fortune on books, videos, even courses and workshops, all promising information that will provide a unique perspective, change our perception and improve our lives in one way or another.
The truth is, we have Enlightenment wrong. As a concept, it has very ‘conveniently’ warped into something that fits our Western, postmodern values; it is something we lack that we must strive to obtain, and once we do, we’ll be happy (not just happy, blissful even!). It has become another carrot on a stick. The New Age movement holds, perhaps, some of the blame. Because it was not a unified movement, it drew upon such vast sources of information and practice, often entirely contradictory and, at times, of questionable nature.
Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ was a huge proponent in self-help, and his solutionist style filtered down into the New Age movement with ease. It appealed to people who were vulnerable and lacked self-esteem, as well as an answer or a solution. Combine this with Eastern spiritual teachings and a bit of mystical quackery for good measure, and you have a dangerous (and very profitable) cocktail.
What is ‘it’, then?
The irony of it all is that while self-help is fixated with appeasing the emotional ego, Buddhism is entirely about being released from it. Adding layers to ourselves, to our egos – is comforting; it’s a convenient distraction that nearly all of us partake in our whole lives. We view enlightenment through the same distorted lens; it’s another conditional in our life – if we obtain ‘enlightenment’ we’ll suddenly become or feel A/B. Our search for what we think ‘enlightenment’ is becomes another distracting layer we add to our constructed sense of ‘self’, or who we think we are.
“1: The self, especially as contrasted with another self or the world” ‘Ego‘ Definition, Webster Dictionary
Enlightenment, according to Buddhism, is simply a state of nondual (not two, i.e. not separate) awareness marked by the absence of suffering brought about by desire. When you compare that to, for example, “repenting for man’s original sin”, it seems pretty damn mature and intelligent. Truly, we are all trying to ‘reduce’ our suffering, but usually through ill-informed, selfish means; usually avoidance, self-delusion and following one’s simplistic desires. Read Buddhism’s Eight-Fold Path in overcoming suffering. You may be surprised by how sane the advice is.
From the moment a child is born, its experience is defined by how its environment is different from itself. It gains awareness of itself as a ‘separate’ identity, developing a personality that is defined by its experiences. From a ‘local’, human perspective, we are indeed separate entities. This perception of separation is a simple biological survival mechanism. Evolution wouldn’t have quite worked out if we humans believed, in the face of say another apex predator like a lion, that we were at one with it…things would certainly have played out differently! Thinking that a separation exists has been, and continues to be important for our animalistic survival.
However, if our very thoughts and therefore our sense of identity are simply products of advanced evolutionary neuro-activity, our perceived ‘separateness’ is entirely an electro-chemical illusion. When one strips away these layers of self, what is left? Buddhism calls it ‘consciousness‘, others call it energy. Eckhart Tolle, from the video above, calls it stillness. Defining it really isn’t all that important, however. To simply understand and embrace that everything is made from ‘it’, that all apparent separateness is an illusion, is at the heart of enlightenment. These concepts are not all spiritual, either. Many quantum physicists are exploring non-dualism as a scientific concept. Consider Einstein’s point below:
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” –Albert Einstein
The similarity between what Einstein is saying and what Buddha taught thousands of years ago is astounding. Oneness/nondualism are true, spiritual or scientific, it is no matter. So, what is the state of being enlightened? Personally, I don’t see enlightenment as an ultimate ‘goal’, more a realisation of truth. We can be ‘more’ or ‘less’ ignorant of this truth, but nothing else. We can practice meditation, mindfulness, and become more self-aware, compassionate for others and develop inner peace and tranquillity, or we can choose not to. Simply, take responsibility for your experience and your suffering, because you have the ability to deal with it if you so wish. The illusion of self and separation will always exist to some degree; that’s a simple fact of where we are in our evolutionary journey. It’s up to us how much we allow ourselves to invest in it.
May 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
“Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the cave-man had known how to laugh, History would have been different.” –Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray
I’m proud to announce that Jack Heavenor, Glaswegian artist, has joined me in providing content for Pseudo Philosopher. Life should be lived lightly, and so we’ve decided to introduce a comedic strip that celebrates this. Keep posted: the next entry will be on health and fitness and it’s direct relationship with mental/emotional well-being.
May 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
In an era of information overload, lists are conveniently condensed pockets of information. We scroll through the points, nod to ourselves, and our guilt is temporarily relieved by our two minute browse. But do we ever really apply the advice? Information is important, well and true, but taking action is essential. What, you might ask, is the bridge between these two stages? It’s both the simplest and most difficult element of change: motivation. Your motive for any changes in your life has to be strong enough to spark the fuel (information and knowledge) into action. In the following, I’ll be addressing five things that will improve your experience, and how to combat the difficulty of motivation.
1. (Eins / Uno / Yī) – Beauty and Inspiration
Fill your life with beauty, art and ingenuity. If you’re a creative type, gain a deep understanding of the work of your role models and fill your physical spaces with it (art, books, music, etcetera). For those more technically minded, beauty (importantly, beautiful spaces) have a direct correlation with happiness. With 80% of us living in cities, we don’t quite realise the benefits of nature in our lives. Be inspired by the stillness of the wild, and apply it to your life. Wander into a forest and just sit and listen; the total immersion you’ll experience will be so unusual but so anciently familiar. It’s rather difficult to feel depressed when you are continually reminded of the beauty that exists in the world. Here’s a list of outdoorsy cities to live in. Make an effort to fill your life with beautiful and inspiring creations, and give yourself a regular dose of nature, you’ll surely be happier for it.
2. (Zwei / Dos / Èr) – Consistency
Consistency is boring. Consistency is predictable. Consistency, when put against intelligence and creativity and all of those wonderful ‘special snowflake’ traits, wins outright when it comes to achieving anything in life. You’ll find some incredibly dull, unimaginative people in some very high up positions in society, simply because they turned up, again and again. For any of your endeavours in life, you need boring old consistency. Why is it that we struggle to be consistent, even with our passions?
We simply get more instant gratification from cycling through movies, facebook and checking emails. But what effect does these behavioural patterns have on our lives, our self-esteem and importantly, our long term happiness? The effect, I’m sure you’ll all agree, can only be negative. If you’ve struggled with this throughout your life, it is unlikely that you’ll become a paragon of self-discipline, but you can deal with the problem intuitively:
Marli Huijer, a Dutch psychologist, proposed that for those of us who lack discipline, we need to rely on the external. Create a network of discipline and obligation around you. Make yourself and your goals accountable by sharing them with friends/colleagues. Secondly, break your goals down into weekly and daily tasks, which can reduce the terror of daunting dreams like ‘make a living from art’. Instead, perhaps, say to yourself that you’ll do ‘one watercolour and one digital painting by the end of the day’. Give yourself manageable baby steps. Technology makes delegating very convenient; Toggl is nifty in that you can measure how long you’re spending on activities (productive or procrastinating).
3. (Drei / Tres / Sān) – Challenging People
Every single interaction you have with people has the potential to teach you something. Why, then, do we squander this potential throughout our lives? Because we’re too immersed in our own stories. In communication, especially those of conflict / dissent, try to look at the situation objectively rather than subjectively. Your angry, ‘slave-driver’ boss might seem tyrannical and unfair to you, but they simply function differently. If you value depth of thought, for example, imagine how infuriating it’d be if someone said ‘reading and art are for bozos’. Now, say your boss (seems to be a recurring if clichéd example!) values accuracy and time-keeping, and you fail to follow through. Your actions not only make his job more difficult, they also go against his very values as a person. It’s exactly the same, it’s just that you have different values.
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
Instead of feeling angry or sorry for yourself, reflect on the idea that his values are a necessity. A good manager is not always a nice manager, and that’s an unfortunate truth. You might say “but Whitemowgli, some people are just assholes!”. To this, I beseech you to understand why. Look to the source of the problem; is it simply insecurity? Ignorance? Understanding the bigger picture when it comes to people’s stories will benefit your interactions immeasurably. Similarly, change the way you think about critical friends. I often offer my unbiased opinion to people and, depending on their personality, they react differently. Some are unaffected, some intrigued, and some enraged. In a world filled with deceivingly positive affirmations and feedback, many of us don’t experience the benefits of cut-the-bullshit objective advice.
Lastly, look into personality typology, notably the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) inspired by the work of Carl Jung. Taking the test, along with getting friends and colleagues to do so too, has provided me with so much perspective, as well as cultivated in me acceptance of people’s differences.
4. (Vier / Quattro / Sì) – Being Vulnerable
“To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable open-mindedness, chaotic, confused vulnerability to inform yourself.”
To many of us, to be vulnerable is to be weak. Exposing yourself makes you more susceptible to risk, of all shapes and sizes. Little do we realise, then, that the very thing we’re hiding from is essential to our human experience. From our work to our relationships, being in a place of vulnerable open-mindedness is so vital, so necessary, that a life lived without it is one of regret. The artist must be able to put a bit of herself into each creation, reveal herself to the world, and say ‘this is mine, I created this, it may be imperfect, but it is mine‘. In business and entrepreneurship, vulnerability is also essential. Gay Gaddis, owner of the T3 Think Tank, said “When you shut down vulnerability, you shut down opportunity.” Ego preservation works both ways; you might risk less, but you almost certainly gain less, too. Take a moment to watch the TedTalk video below. Brené Brown has gained a profound insight on the subjects of human connections, happiness and vulnerability:
5. (Fünf / Cinco / Wǔ) – Stop Reading Self-help Lists!
Okay, that might be a bit of ironic hyperbole, but we (yes, we, I’m struggling with this too!) need to realise something very important. In trying to change who we are, we’re coming from a place of lack. We’re attempting to demolish solid foundations (who we are) with tiny chisels; it’s an exercise in painful futility.
“The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”
Instead, come from a place of abundance. When you consider the abundance of intelligence, empathy, experience, love and joy our foundations are built out of, you’ll realise ‘damn, I really am enough’ and cultivating growth will be a complete breeze. Put yourself wholeheartedly, unabashedly, unashamed, out into the world. Trust me, people, including yourself, will love you for it.
May 1, 2014 § 5 Comments
Welcome, fellow internet people. This dreamy space will be where I share my deepest, most thoughtful reflections on just about everything. At times, I will be pretentious. Absurdly so. I may also attempt to be amusing, so I apologise for both of those in advance. Hopefully my words prove to be interesting or helpful and, failing that, at least kill some of your time. That, ladies and gentlemen, was my ‘hook’. You can really tell I’ve been doing my social media marketing research. Anyhow, without further ado, I’ll be writing a little on a very big subject; the meaning of life. I’m sure it’ll give you an idea of what’s to come. We humans have struggled to find universal meaning for yonks. From a whole slew of Ancient Greek philosophers to South Asian beliefs (Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism) to the Abrahamic religions, they all have one thing in common (or not): the meaning found is unique to the system/individual that conceived it. Wisdom, discipline, pleasure and most significantly theistic devotion have all been idealised as the pinnacles of the human experience. This raises a critical point; if the answers to a question asked for thousands of years have little to no cohesion, is there an answer at all?
“Row, row, row your boat…life is but a dream“
A little history
Nihilists in the 19th century – notably Nietzsche, believed that no intrinsic meaning exists in life, and that morals and values are all contrived by us humans. He was an ardent critic of organised religion, coining the term ‘God is Dead’, and concluded that this symbolic ‘death’ was one of the greatest threats in the modern world, and that nihilism was a crisis. In a world still largely dominated by the Catholic church, what Nietzsche was saying was rather brave and, well, terrifying. These nihilists de-constructed the belief in predestination and a paradise heaven that had comforted theists for thousands of years, and offered nothing in replacement. Absurdism, a similar school of thought, deals with the cognitive dissonance (the mental conflict) between humankind’s desire to find objective meaning in life and their inability to find any.
Each and every one of us struggle with this dissonance throughout our lives. Be it religious faith, finding the right career path or fitting into a social circle, these are the children of a larger problem; our desire for meaning. We rage and despair trying to achieve some kind of identity for ourselves that we think we should embody, as if it’s a predetermined, fixed thing. Truly, we deprive ourselves of our free will, as our choices subconsciously follow a preconceived notion of who we are or should be. Is it really such a surprise, then, when we experience stress, depression and crises/breakdowns when we fail to attain this? Most of you will be nodding your heads, at least figuratively, when I say this. Perhaps you’ve already curled up in a ball, rocking back and forth, despairing from existential angst. Stop. Just listen to me for a moment. Everyone before you in history (and that’s some very intelligent people!) have failed to answer the question that you’re wrestling with. I’m telling you this now: you will never find a universal meaning to your life. “Whaaat?! But Whitemowgli, we’ve invested so much in searching, what would we do instead?” You might think. Well, the answer is really quite simple.
Create your own meaning
This is a call to action. Throw off the shackles of your dissonance, and stop searching for something you think you should, for it has brought nothing but suffering to you and everyone else, living or dead. Revel in the fact that there is no plan, no meaning, no destiny. It is terrifying, true, but it’s also liberating. In the face of the absurd, you have three options:
- Drive yourself insane in denial of the absurd, conforming to someone else’s idea of what your life’s meaning is (being renowned, wealthy, respectable, etc) or fruitlessly searching yourself
- Admit the absurd – that we have no known purpose – and be contended in cultivating meaning within yourself and your life according to your values
- Escaping existence (suicide – not my choice, and I hope it isn’t yours)
Out of the three, there’s one sane choice. To clarify, I’m not telling everyone to ‘drop out from the system’ and disappear into the wilderness to ‘cultivate meaning’. I’m simply saying that life is far too short to be lived for the wrong reasons. Jump through other people’s hoops if you genuinely want to, not because of some self-flagellating, insatiable guilt. Create meaning in your life; beauty, knowledge, community, even pleasure – it really doesn’t matter. As long as you do so consciously, intelligently, and with purpose. Examine every thought that comes into your mind, and determine its origin. Don’t let yourself be driven by insincerity. To conclude this, look into mindfulness, a practice that stems from Buddhism, that teaches exactly what I’m talking about; intelligent awareness. I leave you now with words of wisdom from a champion of truth, the late Bill Hicks. Please comment if you have anything to add! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMUiwTubYu0 With sincerity, Whitemowgli