Cycles

Continuous cycles of existential crises.  It’s okay though.  Reading this article about a Wesleyan professor going through dementia, his heart outliving his brain with the help of a pacemaker.  It is heartbreaking, and incomprehensible.  You think that good things happen because one is a good person, has lived a life with decency and dignity.  Yet dying slowly and painfully is an indiscriminate fate.  It’s enraging that things should be this way.  And terrifying too.

I was in danger of being hit by a bus today on my way to work, a giant barreling around the corner of 35th and Madison.  How close this always is.  I think the concept of death is easy to grasp now because it seems abstract and far away.  But what is it to live out its minutiae, slow deterioration, loss of identity?

What is true?  When I was younger I believed that the world could be golden, Sesame-street-like, if I only believed hard enough.  The truth is that suffering is braided together with all good things.  Pleasure and happiness and love.  You want to believe that love will overcome all things, but it can’t overcome death.  Love doesn’t really prevent you from dying, even in the eyes of your beloved.  You’re not allowed to take anything with you, even the concept of who you think you are.  Because you might grow old and sick.  Become not the “man I married” and therefore not the person I fell in love with and spent the best parts of my life with.  You might no longer be the father or mother or grandmother I knew.

Meditation helps me think about essential things with a more peaceful mind, I think.  It’s a kind of control over the fear of knowing how out uncontrollable most things are.

Reading Kenji Yoshino’s Covering for the second time, this time even more slowly because his writing arrests me when I take the time to read it.  I want to devour this book in the deepest sense of the word, read it over and over again until it’s fully absorbed into my bloodstream.

He writes about how his mother tells him, while he struggles with his closeted homosexuality, “Don’t think so much.  Life isn’t that simple,” and how it struck him that most parents would have told their children not to worry because life isn’t that complicated.  I think there’s a similar relief in being able to let go and sit in quiet despite these grasping moments.

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Faith

What is the worth of faith?  I want to believe that there is good underlying all this, but there are moments when it doesn’t seem possible.  My “good” is not your “good”.  Unspeakably horrible things happen every day and have happened.

I want to know about the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Aun San Suk Kyi and all our contemporary moral leaders.  What sustains them?  Faith can be a pillar of a life lived according to the highest principles, but I think it isn’t the only one.  I just want answers, when it’s clear that there aren’t any.  None you can find in book or a sound bite anyway.

It’s too easy to forget about attribution error.  Other people look so much more whole than you might feel about yourself – a roil of emotions and disconnected thoughts.

I’m borrowing this body for the next 60 years or so and will give it back to the earth when I’m done.  Just borrowing.  Being spiritual means acknowledging the smallness of you in the universe.  And yet that smallness makes me feel so much more empowered and free, because for a moment it lifts the burden of ego – your job, status, the clothes you wear, your (dis)abilities, what your friends and co-workers think about you.  If there are aliens out there, they’re probably laughing at us and our petty vexations.

In a somewhat (but not very) related note, what motivates us?  Not always bonuses.  The Gist = “Pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.”

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David from the dentist

“Is this FOREVER?”  the kid asks, and his dad laughs.  We chuckle because we know that it’s such a kid thing to say.  It’s easy for kids to think that a present, temporary state will last forever, because they’re not as used to change as we are.  They haven’t seen the myriad ways in which what once seemed permanent begins to shift and melt away.  People around you pass away, you move, and age, and your body begins to change too without your having any say in it.

This is where I am right now.  Constantly asking “Is this going to be FOREVER?”  Am at the crux of not knowing whether I am young or old, whether I should be wholly responsible for myself, or still entwined with my family.  Law school or grad school or work or what?  There aren’t any grades or rules anymore to measure myself by.  That’s alternately, simultaneously liberating and frightening.  What now?  is the question that constantly presents itself.  What should I try next?  And how to get there?

I’m 24 years old right now.  It’s important to stop and think about that, because it’s too easy to watch the days, weeks, and months slip by without being conscious of what substantive things I’ve been able to do in that time.  I won’t wait passively for the next big thing, the next ready-made pre-fab Ikea life goal to present itself before deciding what I can be and do in the world.

There is much that is broken in this world.  Once you’ve acknowledged this as a truth for you, you have a series of choices.  Watch the problems unfold from a distance (until the tide reaches you), run for the nearest shelter and wait for the storm to pass (which it never will.  there will always be storms), do what you can to help rectify them.  I’ve always said that I don’t need to save the world, change the world.  Just make the world a little better in my own small way, every day, in a sustainable way.  It might not be enough.  It might be a futile gesture, and it will be hard.  It might be thankless in the sense of social and financial status.  But at least attempt, that’s all we can do.  You can choose for yourself what the project of your life will be, which you will never finish.  That is the truth, you endlessly optimistic Americans.  But it’s ok.  Choose what will give you meaning, or make meaning for yourself.

Free

“Because we can be conscious of what we want, we can evaluate the desirability of that desire and, if need be, act to counter that desire.

So in addition to saying that we tend to do what we want to do, we need to insist that we can also ‘step back’ from our actions and desires and reconsider them.  Of course, we don’t always do this, but the fact that we can do so is essential to our freedom.”

–Robert C. Solomon, The Little Philosophy Book

The Marshmallow Experiment