I wish I were the sort of person who could believe in something. A person with an anchor to the world, be it faith, a spiritual path, family, etc., something that affirms a sense of self and gives life meaning. I am without this. I have stages of connection – a fleeting sense of clarity where I think, “Aha! So this is what it’s all about.” But, over time, that initial sense of clarity and purpose dims until it is forgotten. And even in memory, I cannot recall the emotions I first felt. And so I return to this uncomfortable state, part melancholy, part anger, part confusion, in which I feel a clusterfuck of thought and emotion forming that leads me nowhere and leaves me lost, tearing in all directions, eventually exhausted.
I try to follow a pattern to this point, but the only thing I can determine is that it’s the pattern of daily life itself that leaves me this way. It’s when I toil in monotony and shallow worries that my mind and spirit clouds and I lose all sense of what I’d formerly believed grounded me. When I get to this point, nothing feels right and all the things that fascinated me before seem too simple to this critical, angry, judgmental self. Suddenly, all the epiphanies, the comfort and growth, are gone. Zen might say I’ve been caught in the trance of ego. Zen is right. But my realization of this fact doesn’t put an end to my suffering. I can’t even meditate anymore. And my inability even to focus on my breath just drives the rabid spiral of my mind even deeper. David Foster Wallace, in his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College described the mind-trance as “the terrible master” and said it was no wonder that adults who commit suicide with firearms “almost always shoot themselves in the head.” This frightens me. But not so much as the alternative provided by Charles Bukowski,
“Some lose all mind and become soul, insane.
some lose all soul and become mind, intellectual.
some lose both and become accepted.”
Is it even possible to find peace between the two, mind & soul? This is the battle of the modern world – how to be kind and honest and true to yourself while also feeling well and empathizing with others, and somehow managing not to get crushed by ruthless brutality of it all. I worry I am losing the battle. I worry that anything other than acceptance leads to madness. But I fear the greatest burden of all, for myself at least, is the complacent deadness of modern life. I would rather careen towards madness than waste away in a life of terrible triviality. But that very triviality is so complete in its seduction. It’s incomprehensible that something which offers so little could consume us so completely. When faced with option between truth (love, tenderness, emotional honesty, empathy, a spirit of service, connection to the true self, etc.) and lies (mass consumerism and materialism, shallow relationships, judgement, hate, greed, violence, religious dogmatism) we most frequently choose the latter. I do it frequently. Why does it seem that this shadow self is so much stronger? So strong that we choose it again and again even though it leaves us feeling empty, hungry and afraid. Is because more than anything else, we are most afraid of our great potential?
I’m not sure. I know for me, it’s my fear of madness that holds me back. I’ve seen too many people I love open themselves to the great truths without precaution and they all lost themselves. The outcome is never pretty; either they continue down that path and are too broken to remain in the world and so they alienate themselves or they “fix themselves” and become accepted, aka, dead.
Those who do it successfully, usually religious leaders, usually lead monastic lives. How can you have both? A job and a life, friends and family, and also a soul alive, a mind on fire and a heart filled with the light of love and service?
This is the mystery to me. And more and more I find myself listening to sad folk music and day-dreaming about a quiet farmhouse with full bookshelves.
We are such strange creatures, we humans. We create societies and value systems that leave us empty and unhappy, and so we seek an alternative which asks us to abandon the very lives we created for ourselves. Our broken hearts and strange desires make us both desperate and noble. I don’t pretend to know the point of it all. I guess I just hope there is one.