You know what getting married is? It’s agreeing to taking this person who right now is at the top of his form, full of hopes and ideas, feeling good, looking good, wildly interested in you because you’re the same way, and sticking by him while he slowly disintegrates. And he does the same for you. You’re his responsibility now and he’s yours. If no one else will take care of him, you will. If everyone else rejects you, he won’t. What do you think love is? Going to bed all the time? –Jane Smiley, novelist (b.1949)
I was perusing some other blogs today and I came across this very heartfelt and honestly written piece (this is my abridgment of it)—
“I’ve lived the vast majority of my life hiding from people. When I was a wee lad, I had it rather solidly drilled into my head that there was a world outside and that that world and those people didn’t want anything to do with me. At least that’s the idea I had growing up because it was very clear to me that my mother didn’t want anything to do with me so why on earth would anyone else? So as the years went by I just formed this hard and crusty shell around my soul and on it was inscribed in big bold letters that everyone could see: UNWANTED. And I went along in life like that for quite a while. Every relationship I had with anyone was prefixed with the question of, “What could this person ever want with me?” I had the self-esteem of a small undercooked potato. . . .”
And I felt his pain, and as started to respond, my response took this turn:
But what if that’s what most of the world thinks of you and how it treats you—as unwanted, like you’re an invisible man. Except in this case it has nothing to do with one’s mom or dad not loving one enough, it’s just that you see way too much and you’ve seen too much and you see too much of people (including the stuff they don’t want anyone to see, which means most of all themselves!). And you’re naturally just far too truthful and perceptive and realistic, and people don’t want that stuff—they want to eat cheeseburgers, watch the telly, have good times, keep things light, have fun. And so basically you’re selling what no one else is buying and what no one wants to buy—truth, reality, no more bull shit. You’re selling what nobody want to be bothered with—the realistic side of life—and what no one wants to think about. Everyone wants to live in denial, stuff their minds with bullshit and cotton and all sorts of escapist nonsense and fantasies, and so by virtue of that fact, you’re also pushed to the side, treated like a pariah, a leper. Bottom line: nobody really wants something real with someone real. So no matter how much you try to downplay your leperness and not let them know what you’re really seeing, you can’t escape yourself and who you’ve become: it will come up or come out inevitably at some point. And when it does, I will always tend to overestimate where the other person is in life. And so how dare me! How dare I have the nerve to speak with another person directly and honestly and candidly! They’re not me; they’re not built like me; they don’t read what I read, think like I think. And so they do what frightened insecure people do—what they always do ultimately—they run from you, ignore you, shut down, shut you out, try to convince you that you’re the problem. Basically treat you like a piece of shit, even though that’s not what you did to them; you were just being honest and direct. Which means of course that they’ll start whining about how you could try to be more tactful, more kind and thoughtful in your delivery; just like I’m sure they were being very kind and tactful in their rejection of me.
The point is no matter how much I try to keep my leperness under wraps so that others won’t feel insecure around me, they’ll ultimately feel insecure and reject me and hate me for making them feel insecure—even though I never wanted to do so; I just don’t want to have to lie and not be who I am, and pretend not to see what I see, and load up whatever I have to say with sugar and sweetness just so they won’t despise me for it, berate me for it, et cetera.
So what do you do? What then? Do I have to stop being me? Do I have to stop being me if I want to get married and have a family and not grow old alone and die alone? Do I have to doll myself up as a big old cuddly stuffed animal of a human being and play down so that others won’t feel insecure around me? How much do I have to compromise myself?
And why the fuck do I care?
Why do I care what people who are basically weak and in denial and leading mindless unexamined lives do to me?
I only need one person, one woman, who won’t run away, who won’t back down, who hasn’t stuffed her mind full of this culture’s cotton candy, but who instead has made herself as strange and weird and different as I have made myself; one woman who is leading an examined life, who isn’t afraid of looking at herself, facing herself, examining herself and her life—and who isn’t a nun and who hasn’t taken a vow of celibacy and who is now dead from the neck down! I’m just looking for one woman.
Jung wrote that beautiful bodies and beautiful personalities rarely go together. And I get that. If you’re too attractive, if the world is your oyster and full of options for you, you’ll be denied the impetus to really look at yourself and build yourself perpendicularly in mind and soul, to make something noble and truly decent and good-hearted and smart of yourself. You’ll just be able to go from person to person, relationship to relationship without really having to address yourself. There’s a world full of options out there waiting for the pretty people—a world full of options that are denied less attractive people.
And I realize that all of this may make me sound like deep down I’m just some enormously hateful jaded asshole or misanthrope who goes into relationships looking to fixate on what’s “wrong” with the other person and then goes to town unwittingly sabotaging the relationship and constantly testing the other, I don’t. At least I don’t think I do. I think I enter into relationships truly interested in getting to know another and, well, ok, so here’s where the problem comes in, letting another get to know me. Because that’s the problem; letting another person get to know me means exposing not just how I feel and what I want, but also what I’m thinking and how I see things.
And so fuck me. Because every time in a relationship a person asks me what I’m really thinking, I tell the other person. Why? Because I’m an honest, and apparently naïve as hell, guy. I do care about people’s feelings, but I also care about they’re thinking (“We are what we think, with our thoughts we make the world”—thank you Buddha for that gem). And there’s the dilemma—which to care more about. That misanthrope Peck, whose point of view really makes sense to me, makes the point that mental health is about being dedicated to truth, and that that means when faced with the choice between truth and comfort, then we gotta go with truth and welcome our discomfort. And so what do I do? Why I say what’s actually on my mind of course—a mind that likes to spend it’s free time reading Peck, Schnarch, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Krishnamurti, Rilke. Most of these writers were truth-dispensing assholes. And am I not my intellectual fathers’ son? Of course I am. I know I need to read more Rilke. He wasn’t an asshole. He used the word “perhaps” all the time—what a great softener! And he was a poet—a real poet—he had such a way with words! I mean, read his letters from 1892 – 1910; they’re amazing! So beautiful! If I could talk like Rilke, write like Rilke, if I had the moves like Rilke, and if I could dance like Rilke, I would be in high demand; I’d have interesting and deep and soulful captivating women lining up around the block to be wooed and wowwed by me and my heart and mind. But instead, I’ve got too much Kierkegaard and Emerson on the brain. And all of the Pema Chodron I’ve read, all of the Montaigne, all of the Alain de Botton, all of the David Whyte and Mary Oliver and Roger Housden—and even Rilke—hasn’t been enough of s tool softener for my delivery and able to make me more tactful, more kind and gentle, yet still honest and truthful. Oh no, I gotta be me; I gotta be like a white bull in the china shop of other people’s hearts and their interior life—what little interior life they have (see, there you go—you’re such a fucking misanthrope, John! You should listen to your own bitching and whining!). . . . But here’s the thing: if the other person really had much of an interior life then they’d be happy as a pig in poop in meeting someone like me, they’d take to me like deep blue warm water—“What? You too? I thought I was the only one!–I thought I was the only one who read those books, thought on those things, considered those possibilities, loved to talk for hours about those things—about life, death, relationships, love, what love is, what it means to be awake,” et cetera.
So back to my conundrum . . . this world is not full of deep thinking and self-examining and very self-aware and decent people. It isn’t. So what’s a guy like me to do—a guy who pictures himself as perceptive, deep, thoughtful, self-aware, not completely asleep, and not living in denial? Picture a scene; I’m at lunch with a beautiful and seemingly (misanthrope, John, you said “seemingly”) intelligent woman, and she says to me, “John, tell me what you’re really thinking about what I just said; tell me the truth, I can handle it; I know who you run with intellectually, so I really wanna know.” And my first thought is Fuck me; no you don’t. And then quickly those immortal words of my partial soulmate and fellow misanthrope, that loveable old Hank Moody (“Californication,”) rush to mind—”a morning of awkwardness is far better than a night of loneliness.” And so I think to myself, So , John, do you wanna be right, or do you wanna get laid? (This is me being blunt with myself; no bullshit.) This woman wants to fuck you; she wants to climb all over you and do all sorts of gloriously nasty and pleasurable things to you; and she wants you to rock her little semi-hottie body till she can’t think straight anymore.” So the obvious answer is “Lie, John!” If you want to get laid—or, hell, just not be alone in this world and have any hope ever of female companionship—then lie, John. But whatever you do, don’t tell her what you really think—and for fucksake don’t tell her about all of this that you’re thinking right now either. She’ll hate you for it. And she’ll get all hurt and cry and her labia will shrivel up and your little budding whatever you have with her will be over.”
So what do I do? Tell her what I think and end up going home alone that night of course. And then I compound it by sharing it the rest of the world (meaning anyone who reads my blogs).
Why? Because deep down I still believe there is someone out there who can handle me—a lid for every pot, including even me, as someone recently said to me.
Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend, when, in the middle of it, she said to me, “John, you’re very relationship-centered, perhaps too relationship-centered.”
I told her I didn’t think so, and that perhaps part of the difference between our points of view was due to the fact that she had a lot of friends, and so relationships weren’t an issue for her, whereas I really don’t consider myself to have any real true friends (except perhaps for her), and so maybe my “focus” on relationships was owed to that fact, and that if she were in a similar position—down to one friend remaining on all the earth, then she too might be a bit more focused on relationships and in trying to create more meaningful relationships in her life.
That didn’t stop her. She continued trying to press her point, trying to get me to see that what I’m asking for and focusing on is too much.
And I told her that I didn’t think it was. I tried to share with her my point of view—that life is short, that things can change in an instant for the worse; and that once you truly begin to understand and appreciate this, it leaves you with really only two choices—to live a totally self-indulgent life gratifying every item on your bucket list; or become the type of person that you can be proud of being when you die—what I refer to as the “Les Mis” Jean Valjean route.* (*And it’s not that a person can’t be proud of checking every item off a self-indulgent bucket list, it’s just that for some people if and when they finally “get it” that life is short, that death is inevitable, that we’re all fragile, then their bucket list takes on a different flavor—it reflects the things that are truly important in life: family, love, depth, resonance, meaning, joy, companionship, real connection, truly loving another [or others] and being loved, knowing another [or others] deeply and being known, having developed one’s humanity, having had a spiritual and moral awakening [these two are intrinsically connected; you can’t have a true spiritual awakening without also having a profoundly moral awakening as well—what the Christians terms a “metanoia” or conversion type experience, in the sense of a radical and profound change of heart and mind and life direction, from one of self-centeredness and gratifying the ego, to one of transcendence and transcending the ego. This is the shift that we’re all called or invited to make, but few of us do–as in many are called, but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14)].)
It’s difficult to talk to a person who is at the place in life where my friend is—the reality is she hasn’t really lost anyone, she hasn’t really gone through much, she’s lived a fairly sheltered and easy (and thus neurotic) life (Neurosis always being an illegitimate substitute for real life and real suffering, to paraphrase Jung). She has some sort of spiritual practice—she meditates, does yoga—but more often than not these are means of escape for most people. Most people don’t do yoga and meditate in order to learn how to better deal with life, but rather to escape from life, feel good, “centered,” and quiet their minds. And quiet their minds not so that they can better respond to life more lovingly and productively, but rather be less anxious, feel less stress, what they want is the escape, the insulation, the buffering that can come from meditation; they want to feel better in their isolation and less disturbed by their narcissism. In my experience, most people forget the real reasons for taking up spiritual practices and disciplines. As the Zen Master and psychiatrist Karlfried Graf Durchheim put it:
“[T]he aim of a genuine spiritual practice is not to develop an attitude which allows a person to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, a person’s spiritual practice should teach him to let himself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered—that is to say, it should enable him to dare to let go of his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and want of a comfortable life go in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites and his petty resistances.
“The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.
“When this is possible, meditation itself becomes the means by which we accept and welcome the fears and anxieties and demons which arise from the unconscious—a process very different from the practice of concentration on some object as a protection against such forces.
“Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of discomfort and annihilation can our contact with what is Divine, and with what is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable. The more we learn wholeheartedly to confront the world and a patterned way of living and reacting that threatens each of us with isolation, the more the depths of our own being will be revealed to us and the more the possibilities of new life and inner transformation will be opened to us.”
(From “The Way of Transformation,” pp. 107-108)
When people are asleep in life—meaning, when they have no real relationship yet with their own (or others’) mortality, when they don’t think about it and when their lives haven’t been touched by sorrow, loss, death—they tend not to have much of a sense of nor an appreciation for what truly matters in life. Instead they tend to get caught up in their own neurosis and trying to hide out from life and lead a very comfortable and insulated existence. Life overwhelms them, they’re very sensitive, and so intuitively they try to deal with it by going the wrong way—they try to hide from life, insulate themselves, protect themselves, and so they live defensively, avoidantly, fearfully, timidly, self-enclosed but not ripening, rather self-enclosed and stagnating and suffocating, dying inside while alive, dying instead of truly living.
Anyways, I tried to share with my friend why I am as focused on relationships as I am, but honestly, it’s a lot for her to take in and wrap her mind around. It represents a very different way of thinking than the one she’s invested in. But I tried as best and honestly as I could to give her a little insight into why I’d like to deeply know another and be known by another, why I’d like to experience that level of connection and resonance and relationship with another, before I die— and hopefully well before I die: because to me it’s clearly one of the most beautiful and profound experiences that we can partake in and share in life—loving another and being loved. And once you truly make it a habit of beginning with the end in mind, meaning no longer living in denial of death and our own mortality and how fleeting life and health are—nothing else really makes much sense. . . .
Does God want us to suffer?
What if the answer to that question is yes?
See, I’m not sure that God particularly wants us to be happy.
I think He wants us to be able to love and be loved.
He wants us to grow up.
We think our childish toys
bring us all the happiness there is
and our nursery is the whole wide world.
But something—something—must drive us out of the nursery
to the world of others
and that something is suffering.
– From the motion picture “Shadowlands”
Intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, my friend is still in the nursery. Most people I meet and know still are.
And that’s part of what makes this a wasteland—literally, a land of waste—a land of wasted life and wasted lives; all wasted under the bright blue beautiful sunny Southern California sky.
“People just blindly grabbed at whatever there was: communism, health foods, zen, surfing, ballet, hypnotism, group encounters, orgies, biking, herbs, Catholicism, weight-lifting, travel, withdrawal, vegetarianism, India, painting, writing, sculpting, composing, conducting, backpacking, yoga, copulating, gambling, drinking, hanging around, frozen yogurt, Beethoven, Bach, Buddha, Christ, Transcendental Meditation, heroin, carrot juice, suicide, handmade suits, jet travel, New York City . . . . People had to find things to do while waiting to die. I guess it was nice to have a choice.” – Charles Bukowski
I live as if I’m faithless, I live as if I don’t believe that I can or will ever be loved.
That’s what I mean by being faithless. And I’m as faithless as they come.
And right now I’m as faithless as I’ve ever been.
That’s what loneliness is: having little to no hope left for real companionship.
Deep down I believe that no matter what I do—and I have not given up, I am still trying—ultimately I will end up alone; I will never meet the love of my life, I will never meet a woman who will want me, love me, get me.
The world’s verdict is in and it is that I’m unwanted, unlovable, no matter how much I bracket or stuff these sorts of thoughts and doubts down and show up to the relationships in my life loving, humorous, attentive, generous, kind. Still deep down I don’t think there’s another human being on the planet capable of loving me, capable of truly loving another human being, least of all me.
And I really want to disprove this. I really want to meet a truly loving and wonderful woman.
“Well, then drop the doom and gloom and pitch-black existential self-pity; because it’s clearly not working for you and it’s scaring women away.”
So then we get into the whole “law of attraction” bullshit. You’re alone, John, because deep down this is what you keep putting out into the universe, that you don’t think anyone can love you, and so the universe is only going to keep proving you right.
Oh, I get it. The moment I change my fundamental belief about other people, then suddenly a woman will appear on this planet and in my life who will love the shit out of me, she will tell me that she’s been looking for someone like me her entire life—a guy who is profound, fully alive, intense, deep, perceptive, passionate, funny, sarcastic, self-deprecating, wise, understanding, full of goodness and love.
I’m sure that’s how it works. And if it fails it won’t be because such a woman doesn’t exist, it will be because deep down I wasn’t fully able to change my fundamental belief or assumption and stop being so damn cynical and existentially bleak.
But the truth is, deep down, I really believe I deserve to be loved—I believe that I’ve done more than enough inner work, made something very good and decent and loving and deep of myself. Deep down I believe that I know perhaps a thing or two about how to love another person and be good to her and for her.
But that doesn’t change the fact that when I look out on the world and as I meet person after person, I don’t meet my equal, a kindred spirit, a woman who has read many of the same books that I have, whose thinking resonates with my own (and vice versa), whose mind is naturally drawn to similar subject matter, and who looks out upon the world and sees things in a way compatible and or complimentary to how I see things.
What I see when I look in the mirror is a guy who knows too much, who has seen too much, and in doing so, has made himself strange, perhaps unreachable. I see a guy who if he wants to meet his soulmate, then he should spend the next year of his life learning how to make more money or how to become more lighthearted and “fun,” and he should forget all this bullshit about life and love and death that he knows, that he thinks he knows, that he’s seen, that he’s lived through and experienced, because, bottom line, reality doesn’t sell. No one’s buying truth, no one’s buying reality; no one wants for their soulmate someone who has a clue and knows a thing or two perhaps about what’s going on and how to actually love another person, how to listen, how to think, how to be generous, how to keep things in perspective, and how to be funny, playful, humorous, basically how to be a truly decent guy in an indecent time.
I am what I am, and being dedicated to the truth doesn’t win friends in this society. The truth is unwanted; I am unwanted. I’m living in a wasteland—a vast desolate wasteland.
Subtitled: Life in The Wasteland, Day 17 . . . Day 1004 . . . Day 5,386. . . . It doesn’t matter what day it is because they more or less all look the same. . . .
“West Wind #2” – Mary Oliver
You are young. So you know everything. You leap into the boat
and begin rowing. But listen to me. Without fanfare, without
embarrassment, without any doubt, I talk directly to your soul.
Listen to me. Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and your heart’s little intelligence, and listen to me.
There is life without love, but it’s not worth a bent penny or
a scuffed shoe. It’s not worth the body of a dead dog nine days
unburied. When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight,
the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around
the sharp rocks—when you hear that unmistakable pounding—
when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead
the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming—
then row, row for your life toward it.
I know what I’m up against here, in this city—in the city of lights, in any city—in the days and the months, and years possibly, to come. I’ve tasted it before, never like this. This sharp jagged horrible loneliness, this unrelenting, pitch-black agonizing loneliness that covers your head and face like a sack. This loneliness that comes from having to just sit by and watch helplessly as the days just go by . . . as day after day drips by without any real love, without connection, without depth and sustenance, as the limited supply of days that I have and that she has just pass, pass in the shadowlands, in this vast desolate human wasteland, day after day wasted no matter how hard I flail or don’t, no matter how hard I try, life being wasted, being wasted in the name of an illness I can’t fight and she can’t see.
there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock
people so tired
either by love or no love.
That’s what’s been happening to me—I feel it inside—I feel the mutilation taking place, I feel it across time, I feel myself being gutted, eviscerated, by love, by no love, by having come inches close to it, from having loved and lost, from having loved more deeply and courageously than I had ever thought I could—from letting someone in deeper than I had ever let anyone else in—and then having her—the woman who promised to love me, who swore she had been waiting her whole life for me, searching her whole life for me, praying for me—decide not love me, decide to give me up but not her illness.
And so what’s left but to try to keep picking up the pieces, to keep picking up the pieces of what’s left of my life, and limp on, to spill my sad energy all over the place, to look for someone new—and better (is it possible? It has to be possible)—to love, to find someone new with whom I can again connect deeply, with whom there is real resonance, kindredness, the same inner sight, and who this time actually loves me, gets me. . . .
“Real Connection” – Rumi
Sometimes I forget completely
what real companionship is.
Unconscious and insane,
I spill sad energy everywhere.
My story gets told
in various ways:
a romance, a dirty joke,
What is a real connection between people?
When the same knowledge
opens a door between them.
When the same inner sight exists
in you as in another,
you are drawn to be companions.
But is it even truly possible in this world, in this society, in this culture. Life is so bleak, so desolate, so empty without this level of companionship, without this level of connection. Days just pass, time is lost. I can read, think, write, invest myself, distract myself, but all along I know what I’m doing—I know at some level I know what I’m doing . . . there’s something missing, someone missing. . . . there’s life without love, but it’s not worth the body of dog dead and nine days unburied. I’m not fooling myself. Others may be fooling themselves—playing it safe, “loving” their solitude, indulging their neurosis in the name of pseudo-growth, bull-shitting themselves, avoiding real world relationships, avoiding intimacy, hanging on to their narcissism. Others may be able to fool themselves and live like this, but it’s only because they are fools. They are fools because they don’t think about death. They are fools because the truth of their existence and their own mortality is too searing, too painful, makes them feel so small and helpless, and they rather avoid all of this for as long as possible. So they don’t think about death—the inevitability of death—that everyone including themselves will die; and so they are left to live and love as fools. That’s the alternative they are left with. Because they don’t or won’t begin with the end in mind and stay focused on what will truly matter in the end—to have loved and been loved, to have been deeply known and to deeply know another—they are left to live like fools, like troubled guests darkening the earth . . .
“Intimacy” – Dag Hammarskjöld (from “Markings,” pp. 69 & 73)
Is my contact with others
anything more than a contact with reflections?
Who or what can give me the power
to transform the mirror
into a doorway?
this need of mine to communicate!
Why should it mean so much
that at least one person has seen
inside my life?
“Late Fragment” – Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
“Love Sonnet LXXXIX” – Pablo Neruda
When I die I want your hands on my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me one more time
to feel the smoothness that changed my destiny.
I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,
I want for your ears to go on hearing the wind,
for you to smell the sea that we loved together
and for you to go on walking the sand where we walked.
I want for what I love to go on living
and as for you I loved you and sang you above everything,
for that, go on flowering, flowery one,
so that you reach all that my love orders for you,
so that my shadow passes through your hair,
so that they know by this the reason for my song.
This life is so lonely. So much life is wasted, misspent, lived honoring our fears and limitations instead of trying to grow past them. And because of this we make this place a wasteland, a soulless desolate wasteland, a living procession of dead men and women walking—sleepwalking, barely living, barely breathing and calling it a life. What could be a glorious and beautiful sharing and existence, a life of real love, tenderness, appreciation, perspective, is far less than what was intended, because we have made ourselves far less than what was intended—
What sick ridiculous puppets we are
and what gross little stage we dance on
What fun we have dancing and fucking
Not a care in the world
Not knowing that we are nothing
We are not what was intended.
– from the motion picture “Se7en”
We’re all going to die. All of us. But instead of this truth freeing us, liberating us, it completely freaks us out, sends us into a tizzy, anesthetizing ourselves, running from ourselves and truth, and we start living a life that makes no sense, a life that looks—to those around us—like we think life goes on forever.
“The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.” – Herbert Sebastien Agar
The vast majority of men and women refuse to begin and live with the end in mind. And that’s what makes this place, what makes life, a soulless wasteland—millions and millions of people living as if they’ll never die, and conspiring to maintain this illusion for one another. Millions upon millions of people all living and loving and making decisions as if they’ll never die, as if they have all the time in the world. No sense of urgency, no perspective, no real love, no insight, just sleep—just people sleep-walking through their days and nights, caught up in their own petty nonsense, their own particular neurosis—their own particular pattern of avoiding life and intimacy and having to confront their own mortality.
How can there be any real contact between people when they cannot be honest with themselves about the truth of their situation? How can anything real or beautiful or decent arise between people who are more or less completely in denial of their own and others’ mortality? What chance amid all this is there for anything healthy and true and beautiful?
Aristotle said that real true friendship is based on a companionship in the virtues. And surely among all of the virtues there must be listed honesty and having the courage to face reality. So how can there be any real companionship, any real friendship, any real connection and kinship and true intimacy among any two people who haven’t from the outset confronted their own mortality?
“If, in your course, you don’t meet your equal or your better, then continue your course, firmly, alone. There’s no fellowship with fools.” – Buddha
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer: that you are here; that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
We don’t think about death because it’s pleasant. We think about death because we don’t want to waste our lives, we think about death now because we don’t want to live in such a way that when we do come to die we find out that we had not truly lived. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life, but poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman:
O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless–of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years . . .
What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer: that you are still here, that there is still time, that you still have time, that it’s not too late, that life exists, and you still have time to live more courageously and deeply and wake up if you start facing the truth and stop lying to yourself and living in denial.
Yes, there is life without love, but what’s the point of it? What’s the point of playing hide and seek with ourselves, with our soul, with life, with truth and reality and getting lost in the scramble for our own gratification? What’s the point in getting caught up and lost in constantly placating our neuroses and acting out on its demands? What’s the point in not living and loving now—living and loving more fiercely, more courageously, more passionately, more intensely, more deeply—like we will have wished we had when we’re dying or when we get the test results that tell us it’s cancer, it’s incurable, we have only months to live, get your house in order?
There’s no real companionship—no real intimacy, no real tenderness, no real honesty—possible here amid all of this. Just isolation.
This is the wasteland. . . . . Welcome to it.
What’s going on inside other people’s heads?
I wonder this as I’m walking down the street along the 3rd Street Promanade in Santa Monica. I see the faces of those all around me, some smiling, some empty, some blank, some looking downward preoccuppied feverishly twittering or texting on their smartphones, some looking drained, some looking lost, some smiling, some empty, some laughing. Face after face. Some young, some old, some attractive, some exotic, some mutilated by love or a lack of love. But most either empty or oblivious or hardened. I don’t see many that I would describe as “kind.” And I wonder if mine is? How does my face among all these faces look to others? Does it look alive? Empty? Oblivious? Jaded? Does it look like there’s something very different and deep going on behind my eyes? Does it look like inwardly I’m alive, thinking, noticing, paying attention, looking for other sentient life in the universe, in L.A.? . . .
O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless–of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years . . .
What good amid these, O me, O life?
I look at all of the faces around me, walking towards me, passing by me, and I wonder: Are of these people self-aware and thinking and reflecting and pondering like I am? Are any of them as starving as I am for this level of contact and conversation? Is there the spark of sentient life behind any of these faces the way I feel it in myself?–the type of sentient or inner life where there’s someone or something in there with some measure of depth?–a thinker, a poet, a philosopher, a questioner, a perpetual learner, an idealist, a romantic, a visionary, a revolutionary–someone or something who is trying to overcome the fear and the emptiness and isolation and absurdity and reach out and live and be deeply intensely passionately alive!
Most people I meet seem to need so little to live on and keep them going. They may want a lot and think they’re searching for a lot–a trophy, status, prestige, security, power–but even these things are really very little things. Instead of an ideal and a great love, they seem to content to live on little–little hobbies, little securities, little gratifications, little conversations, little experiences. It’s a living death–time wasted on superficial relationships and conversations, in the shallows of life, angling, conniving, scheming, manipulating, hiding, lying. They run around so hurriedly full of self-importance, thinking that what they’re doing matters. They say “I” “I” but they could mean anyone; the conversations they have, the way they look at the world, what they pursue, the masks they wear, they’re all largely interchangeable, not unique.
And so what’s the point? What’s the point of all of this?–of our daily lives?
To feed themselves–their masks–emotionally. To make themselves feel good, important, loved, happy, excited for the moment. They run around for no other reason than to run and make it through the next hour of their life–if it can even be considered a life–so that they can be free to run again then. So many lead lives of so little depth, so much chaos, a life that it so reactive and weak, a life based on the ill-gotten gains that come from lying and hiding and using. A petty life of petty crimes. Love and affection stolen, time stolen, and all dumped down into the empty black hole of their soullessness. No great love, no great ideal that they’re dedicating themselves to; just days and time ticking away. . . .
Because the alternative–facing oneself, dealing in cold hard truths–is threatening to us?–Is that it?
I tend to suspect it is.
First of all, life becomes very lonely very quickly if you begin thinking freely and honestly (truthfully) and then live in accordance with what you learn.
Moreover, truth may set us free, but it’s also very isolating. Truth is isolating because most do not people run on truth, in fact they run from it. The vast majority of people aren’t interested in what’s true so much as they are in what “feels” true, what they hope is true, what want to believe is true. But the truth is likely none of these things. If something feels true, it’s either a very minor truth, or it’s a lie. The big truths, the really honest and transformative truths, almost always never feel good to us or settling to us; instead they feel unsettling to us, terrifying, unnerving, dizzying, crushing, overwhelming. And until we have acclimated ourselves to feeling these sorts of discomforting emotions, then what “feels” true most likely will always be a lie or a very low order and minor truth.
Truth and comfort are usually at opposing ends of the spectrum.
It is usually a case of either/or–either you want to face the truth, deal in truth, learn to come to grips with the truth, and face ourselves and reality as fully and fearlessly as possible; or you want to live a comfortable life. If you want to live a comfortable life, then you must surround yourself with people who will treat you emotionally with kid gloves, who will adjust and acclimate themselves to your tolerances and limitations; and you must also come up with an untrue or dishonest or false way of defining truth–as what “feels” right. Because what will take precedent is your comfort, your comfort zone, your equilibrium, your emotional tolerances and limits, not truth. But of course in honoring all of this about yourself–in honoring your emotional “hard-wiring”–you’ll be telling yourself (and others) that you are facing and honoring the truth about who you are. Maybe. But if this were really true, it would be the final place that you arrive at after a very long journey of trying to stretch and change this; it wouldn’t be the first thing you run to any and every time you feel threatened by truth or a point of view different from your own–the one you are comfortable with.
Also, people who tend to pin their hopes on certain things being true, who really want to believe certain things are true–and I see this a lot in those who talk in the language of “the emerging shift”–those who read Tolle, Wayne Dyer, who dabble in Jung, who are exploring other levels of consciousness, et cetera–are either zealots or they’re crazy . . . and in either case that just makes them very human–which means dishonest and afraid–of life, of getting hurt, of their own emotions, of experiencing their own strong or out of the ordinary emotions, of being overwhelmed . . . but they are afraid to admit any of this. Thus why they are dishonest.
The truth is not our friend, but our opponent; it opposes us. That’s how we treat truth, like an opposer or an adversary or enemy instead of a friend or guide. Whenever our comfort and the truth conflict, we tend to choose comfort over truth–which means we have to start lying, telling ourselves half-truths.
As human beings, we either become dishonest or depressed whenever the truth seems too unsettling, which is more often than not what truth seems like to us.
People who become depressed have the potential to become saints. They have a good–but still very fragile– heart. Inuitively they care so much about other human beings that they don’t want to turn to using them and lying to them in order to escape from truth or the pain that truth brings. Rather they internalize things and become depressed in the face of cold hard painful unavoidable truths.
People who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who cannot awaken, who will live and die asleep, are those who when confronted with difficult truths start lying–to themselves, others–and thus start using and manipulating others, et cetera, and externalizing thier pain, acting out on it, trying to pass it along and make others metabolize it in place of them.
And the biggest and hardest truth that reveals to us what we are–whether we’re a potential sinner or saint, deep down a good or bad person–is death and how we set our lives and our thinking in relation to this immensity, to this ultimate unprecedented.
We are food for worms. We’ve seen others die. If there’s something more than this life, if there’s something that survives death–a soul, a spirit–it’s something we’ve either been told about, or it’s something that we want to believe. But as far as we know, we share the same fate as everyone else, we will one day turn cold and die and then. . . . Likely nothing. . . . . And deep down this possibility terrifies us. But instead of admitting this and trying get acclimated to this–to this terror, to how much the likely reality of this terrifies us–most people either become depressed or they begin lying; with some people become depressed but with more people, a much greater percentage of people–the vast majority of people–lying.