I read a particularly good passage from French writer Rene Daumal today. He likens the path of life to a singular thread secreted by a spider. You don’t know what path lay before you but you can look behind you to see the path down which you have come. Yet attempts to reclaim what has been traversed end up in entanglements which can strangle the spider to death.
The beauty of the future is that it is immune to intentions and resistant to blame. The path is not “written”, it comes as it comes. Fate is not malleable no matter how hard we try to command it. It’s the genie in the bottle that you can’t stuff back in once released. It is your inner “spider” essentially, released at the same moment that you are into the world. Sharing your every breathe, listening to your every desire, travelling along with you from whim to whim each and every moment of your life along a forever changing path for which even it has no GPS. The only wish it truly grants you is a belief in yourself that your instincts will prolong your evasion of extinction for a reasonable amount of time.
In addition, whilst we can lay all sorts of blame – on ourselves, on others and most conveniently on god(s) for anything that wasn’t quite up to snuff in our past, we don’t have that luxury for future mishaps which haven’t yet occurred.
I agree with Daumal as well that continuously looking back only leads to unnecessary entanglement. You can come to terms with it but you can’t retrace a crooked path. What’s done is done. If you continuously look in the rear view mirror you’re bound to run off the road ahead of you.
Survival, just as in the case of spiders, comes from staking out your particular spot in the world, weaving a strong web and seizing the opportunities that come you way. All the while being keenly aware of the environment around you lest something unanticipated annihilates your world in the blink of an eye with as little effort as the step of a single foot.
We spend a rather inordinate amount of time in our lives obsessing over death. We try to stave it off for as long as possible with healthy eating and exercise and many take that extra step of swallowing a good dose of religion as well. Few of us deny the truth that practically all of us fear its coming – intensely.
Yet in tandem with these feelings we just as naturally, without a great deal of conscious intellectual reasoning, extol death as being a better place, a peaceful rest where we no longer feel pain but only happiness. So with no trials and tribulations to speak of in the afterlife, why on earth do we live? Why do we fight so zealously to stay alive, when it seems so much more emotionally profitable to be dead? Life seems a rather risky, seldom rewarding investment.
Why suffer for even a morsel of paradise on earth when it is all guaranteed after death – at least that’s the package deal they sell us. Persevere through all the muck and you’ll be well rewarded. Yet how do they know? They’re selling us a package they’ve never opened. You can tie all the pretty ribbons on it you like, if it turns out to be empty who are you going to sue for false advertising? You won’t be available to file the evidence.
Most people would say we live for family and friends not just ourselves. That’s probably true to a good extent provided you have family and friends of course. After all death is a rather lonely business, they don’t typically put you in the ground with anyone else beside you to share the ride to the other side.
Of course if you believe in paradise and all that stuff you probably believe you will be reunited with lots of people you’ve known in your life once you’re gone. Only the good ones mind you, the nasty ones won’t be admitted to your personal after party or it wouldn’t be paradise would it? I wonder with all of these reunions though if it is really realistic for all to be bliss for eternity. Is it really possible to not even have a single spat ever in eternity? Does location make all the difference? If we can achieve it in death, why can’t we in life?
It’s interesting how someone can play a simple piece on a violin in a small room and view it as a matter of course. However take that same violin and player and place them on a grand stage in an empty auditorium and somehow it’s transformed into an epic event.
You’d never call the inside of closet a majestic space, but if placed in the middle of the Sahara desert all of a sudden it’s a sort of paradise despite the fact there is absolutely nothing surrounding you other than sand.
What would you prefer? To live in a boundless space externally or create your own internally through imagination? To me it would be the latter since I would be absolute ruler of my environment and could manipulate it in any way I chose. By simply residing in a space, you are still at the mercy of the elements around you. Therefore in essence you are no more “free” than if you were encased in a much smaller setting such as your skin itself.
Why is it that space matters to us so much? Is it as simple as quantity over quality? Or is it a sense of escapism? Meaning that if we have difficulty seeing boundaries to the space surrounding us does it alleviate our nagging subconscious knowledge that practically everything around us including our very lives are finite?
Sadly there are several wars going on all around us these days. The news is saturated with coverage confirming our most primitive instincts have yet to be risen above.
What has always dismayed me about news coverage is how they make it seem like a macabre sports game. It’s always this number or that were killed today. If it includes women and children it gets moved up the leader board in terms of order of stories presented. I don’t think the pain of a mother from losing her adult son is any less than that of losing a younger child. To imply there is some kind of rating system which makes one death more tragic than another simply due to age or sex is absurd.
If, in the case of Israel and somewhat in Ukraine as well, one side loses disproportionally more than the other then the less effected side must be the aggressor. Yet what is logical on the surface doesn’t stand up to the facts. I’m not saying either said is wholly innocent in either case but neither is it a clear cut scenario in which there is a 100% good side and vice versa. Everyone’s circumstance as to how they found themselves in a situation of armed conflict is different. It’s rarely if ever as simple as, “I decided to join the ship that wasn’t sinking.”
They rarely seem to delve into that with their coverage though, there just isn’t time. Or rather they can’t be bothered making time because that ad revenue and those fluff stories during the latter half to make you leave their broadcast “happy” are far more important.
Are they? I’d rather be unsettled and better informed than at peace in a hazy cloud. If enough of us were then maybe we could all contribute to ending the carnage whether it was on our doorstep or not and finally taking that step for humanity that will make warfare an ancient practice and dialogue the “new normal.”
I’ve often been fascinated by the history of measurement. Before everything got standardized, people invariably used the world around them as their source of reference. A great example is the old Irish use of the collop. Instead of saying how many acres of land you owned, a collop measured the amount of land needed to support one family. Your land could go as far as the eye could see, but if it was full of bogs and rocks you couldn’t graze as many cows on it as say your neighbor down the lane whose land didn’t go back as far but its grazing capacity was far better.
While we certainly rely heavily on standardized measurements today, it’s fun to whimsically look about you and invent your own measurements like the old folk methods of the past. For example when I pick up a book I really loved I could measure it as five smiles, three insights and two memories. On a hot summer day I might measure the temperature as three beads of sweat, five eye squints, or four glasses of water. And the giggle of a baby as two skipped heartbeats, one moment of reflection and six urges to cuddle.
Take stock of your surroundings and see if you can measure by quality rather than quantity.
It seems films and television are saturated with crime shows these days. Everyone is trying to commit the perfect crime. Doing something of great significance in the lives of others and leaving no trace of your perpetration.
Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change to see a show or film that focused on committing the perfect life? The main character’s goal to commit an act of great significance in the lives of others and leaving an eternal trace for generations to come of inspiration.
You often hear people talk about how man used to be more “in tune” with nature. There was generally a “give and take” approach to interacting with the world around us. We didn’t decimate entire ecosystems, we took what we needed and gave back when we could. Well theoretically anyway. I’m sure there were exceptions, as rarely does reality exactly mirror the textbook account.
Assuming that it is for the most part true, I wonder how in our modern environments which are in large part filled with non-living things, we can recapture that spirit of “give and take”? Not amongst ourselves but between us and our inanimate surroundings.
Animists believed that every living thing had a soul. Whether it was a stone, a tree or an animate animal. So what is the modern equivalent? When you work in tandem with machinery (i.e. an automobile) to get you from place to place you know that it has no soul but there is a “give and take” relationship there. You give gasoline to the machine, a key to the ignition and a foot to the pedal. In return it gets you to your destination faster than you could make it by walking.
In addition, upon first glance you probably see no symbiotic relationship with buildings such as the concrete skyscrapers most people work in for eight hours a day. Yet the concrete pillars and roofs give shelter from baking sunshine and torrential rains. Air conditioners and heaters also give comfort from the natural elements. In some cases the shapes of these concrete monoliths themselves convey contemporary artistry which can inspire a sense of grandeur in architectural achievement. If you stop for a moment and consider your immediate surroundings, I’m sure you could come up with other examples as well.
Sometimes I think a lot of the misery we experience in modern society is this subconscious sense that we are surrounded by dead, soulless things. We’re struggling to feel a connection to our world despite the fact that we created it. That’s the piece we are missing. We’re seeing only the lifeless part and assuming there is no soul in it simply because it is lifeless. In our attempts at creation we haven’t bested “God” because our creations are lifeless (for the most part). Perhaps it is this sense of inferiority that clouds our appreciation of our surroundings.
The way to recapture that spirit of the animists is to see the ingenuity of the process that brought about these creations. They didn’t simply come out of thin air, they were created just as living beings were. The end result is different of course but the possibilities for interaction, while different, are nonetheless possible.