Monday, July 09, 2007

How We Got Here From There.

Let’s try a little experiment. Turn on your TV when you know there is something really stupid on; something banal and unimaginative and that shows humanity in a poor light. It could be a game show where they compete for kitchen appliances. It could be a weep fest touchy feely thing like Oprah; something saccharine and cloying. It could be a soap opera where those basic emotions are toyed with and acted out in maudlin skits of needy petulance and self-involved reaction games. It won’t be hard to find. In fact, what would be hard to find is something informative and engrossing. But we aren’t looking for that. We’re looking for some trash.

You know its trash when you first see it. You’ve seen it before. Now watch yourself as you watch it. In the first few moments you are aware of yourself watching it. You have an objective position to it. Now watch as you get sucked into it. It only takes a few minutes and it goes through various stages of absorption on your way to forgetting that you are watching until you hit the sponge-like or subjective processing state. It’s a little like falling asleep. We’ve all been there at the edge of sleep, aware that we are in a position to fall asleep and then moving from the images produced by the mind, on in to various trance states until, and you never catch it while it’s happening, you fall asleep.

We experience similar things sitting on a park bench watching whatever may be passing in front of us. Sometimes we know that there is an ‘I’ that is watching. More often we are just watching. People vary. Some are more aware of the process than others. There are periods in human history where more people are aware than at other points. There is never a point where this portion is more than a tiny minority. There’s something uncomfortable about being aware that you are watching. There’s a more universal condition of being lost in, wanting to be lost in the experience.

Most people are uncomfortable with themselves and they want to be lost in something so that the focus is not on them, unless it’s one of those vanity things. During these moments there’s a real pleasure in being observed when we imagine, correctly or incorrectly that someone is interested in us. One of the great devices that effective salespeople and politicians have; that certain professionals and sociopaths have is the appearance of empathetic listening. Many a successful Romeo knows about this little trick.

A large portion of everything people engage in or want to engage in is for the purpose of distraction. Sex, drugs, rock and roll; or whatever form it would take for you, holds out the promise of losing yourself in something. In some way it’s connected to the irrepressible urge for freedom; the desire to get out of ourselves. Spiritual teachers will tell you that freedom and illumination can be achieved by losing yourself in service to others. Some would say it is also attained by retracting your attention from all things external. Meditation is based on this concept.

It’s been said that whether one dispassionately seeks the inner depths or passionately seeks the surface that they are both the same, differing only in perspective. That’s a very heavy concept and not easily reconciled with so much of the baggage everyone carries around with them. It’s also been said that one of the surest routes to liberation and a state of continuous ease is to forget your personal history; operate as if it didn’t exist. The whole of a person’s life, in the ordinary person’s life, is made up of events that seem to change the person going through them. Watching people is an amazing thing. When you can watch with real attention you see some remarkable patterns. A crowded park on a summer evening is a good bet. You can watch children running around with constantly changing focus. Then you see adolescents involved in a posturing self-conscious awkwardness, filled with giddy transitions that are all about a control that just isn’t present enough to contain the repeating sense of embarrassment over not knowing what’s going on, along with the under current of uncertainty over whether anything means this or that. It could be either one.

Then you see the later teen condition where romance and one’s degree of cool ease in motion comes around. Some have the appearance of it having worked out the technique through observation or possessing the seeming good fortune of being attractive to begin with. All kinds of types are displayed, including the rejected and those rejecting because a little James Dean or Jack Kerouac got into the mix. You can watch these ages move on to bent forms in stroll walkers or wheel chairs. Usually you don’t see the drooling senility but you might. You can also see the predators and the prey, in a crowded park, in the evening.

Some of these lives are to be considered successful according to particular social yardsticks and some aren’t. That doesn’t mean much given that success is more about how you feel about what you’ve done and who you are than in what others might think; unless you are in the majority and then it’s some mix of the two. Quite often what people feel about themselves and others has nothing to do with what they really feel because what they really feel never even made it out of the gate and then life is just a series of evolving postures until the posture gets really bent out of shape.

Usually people are moving toward some kind of satisfaction or dissatisfaction that will eventually etch itself permanently into their face. Usually faces will tell you most of what you want to know about someone. It’s not the face itself; it’s what they wrote into the face. On the satisfied track the progression is moving toward a condition of serenity. On the other it is to a condition where there is no peace and then you get situations where the TV is always on, or something is keeping time.

Whether people in general are more or less happy or more or less unhappy depend on the conditions they live in; the state of their society. It’s a curious phenomenon that I have observed when you go to a poor country and often the majority of the inhabitants are smiling and engaging, welcoming and often carefree in circumstances of want. Yet, in societies where all sorts of conveniences and entertainments along with the basic needs and much more than the basic needs are covered they can be resentful and suspicious, hostile and indifferent. It’s odd, that.

A person really ought to find out what is going to make them happy before they go too far down the road to accepting whatever the prevailing assumption of that might be. It gets harder to fix it without having to just walk away completely... after awhile.

It’s strange; all those disappointments that people have in common. Its stranger still when a society goes on churning out discomfort and disparity, paranoia and confinement and it never gets fixed. Many besides Thoreau have commented on this. Most of those for whom serenity and fulfillment are important have found that you often wind up keeping to yourself.

It’s almost as if life is some kind of a candy store. Some of the candy is poisonous and some of it just rots your teeth. In order to succeed while you are in the candy store you find that you shouldn’t eat any candy at all. It seems that those elusive conditions of joy and bliss and tranquility are achieved by forgetting about candy altogether. This flies in the face of the entire construct that depends on your wanting the candy. One might almost say that it makes you an enemy of the state. Pointing it out is almost certain to.

Roses and thorns, romantic love and attachment, loneliness and despair, alcohol and hangovers, hot blood and banked fires, the vain attempt to cosmeticize what we are losing, acquiring enough wealth to seal yourself off, regret, fear of the unknown and a prevailing sense of loss. I don’t know. It seems like such a waste of time. Occasionally I hear this music. It’s a sensation of large bodies rubbing together and its unspeakably exquisite, some kind of warm living rain precipitating. There are voices in it and bright images of some far location now near at hand. I can’t imagine anything comparable and it literally penetrates everything but somehow it isn’t enough for most people. All you have to do is take a look around.


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The 3rd Elf