I read an article this morning which inspired me to write this. She writes a blog and shares her experiences in Auckland as an outsider. It resonated with me so I thought I wrote this as a response, or a ‘thank you’ to her words. Read it here if you’re curious.
February 2016 began in a funny way.
I made a drastic decision about my lifestyle. During January 2016, the year dawned with me going on with a Blender sculpting challenge: almost one sculpture per day during the whole month, which I managed to do in the early mornings before going off to work. Then, after work, I’d arrive in the evening and sit down at the computer to continue on the texturing process of the cockpit for the YF-19. I’d watch an episode of Legend of Korra with the wife, the off to sleep. I was feeling optimistic about this way of starting off a full year. This is productive! I congratulated myself. This would be the most productive year of my life.
Then I made a drastic decision about my lifestyle.
My life is starting to turn too much around computers. When I came back from a spiritual retreat in Auckland in 2015, I came back as a renewed person, a calmer, more centred piece of human being with a lot less worries and a firmer, stronger concept of what life was for. And in my own words (or at least I remember myself saying so) life is meant to be lived here and now. No more thinking about the future (since thinking about the future is thinking about something unreal and intangible, only relevant to our lives when that future becomes the present) or the past. Only the conscious living of now can provide true happiness. Only the infinite freedom of witnessing the present tense with no attachment, no desire, no rejection, no willing, can make existence a happy one. So I was a convinced practitioner of living every second you can, on purpose, and be conscious of it. No more what ifs, no more one day. Living and becoming one with my own present would be my life now.
Then I went on my merry way to get submerged in a computer for the rest of the year.
I realized I hadn’t been away from my laptop for one day, since I got back. Even the Christmas holidays were used “efficiently” in making myself a new animation reel. Then the whole learning Blender thing, the YF-19 project, the sharing of said project with the community on Facebook, and the plans of it. It all became a lifestyle. An optimistic, exciting, efficient and productive lifestyle. But also an addictive one.
What if, I mumbled to myself when reasoning about my own lifestyle, I spend the whole month of February without my computer? What if I use the time to something else? Maybe reading, walking around in the beautiful Wellington summer, playing the guitar again, maybe even drawing, socializing with more people, and doing other things? Would that help me overcome an addiction such as an acquired lifestyle of sitting in front of a computer every day? Would that provide perspective?
So the drastic decision to turn off the computer began on February 1. This would provide a worthy challenge to me. An opportunity to appreciate the small things in life, to start noticing the day passing by. To find myself against the odd feel of not doing something productive, and just be there. To slow down. So I did. Also, the habits of roaming around Facebook and Reddit had to go. I had to start looking for meaning in the rest of my activities, and find worth in them, and the new ones. It would only be a month, so it’s plausible, even comically easy for some standards. Lest so say, my wife took the much more challenging decision to log off Facebook for a full year. I only made myself that promise for February 2016.
It’s only been 4 days so far so it’s still too early to conclude any findings in my “experiment”. The only thing I can say right now is that I was indeed addicted. The reason I know this is, the other night I had a dream about being at the computer. That makes me officially an addict in rehab.
The second day was tough. I got physically uncomfortable. This is what must be to have withdrawal symptoms. I got cranky and irritable. I was so bored at work. I kept clicking on Youtube, waiting to find something worth watching. Nothing. Reddit was dissapointing too. Also, I listened to a NLP coach talking about the need to switch off from watching and reading news every day, since that contributes to create a perception of the world as a scary, awful depressing reality of crises, Donald Trump running for US presidency and Syrian killings. Nothing of those which I could do anything about. So why bother in keeping track of them? So the boredom sank in by day 3 and I started feeling very uncomfortable and anxious.
Anxiety is something we all struggle a lot with in our modern society. I don’t think people used to feel anxious back then in WWII. Scared, confused, pessimistic and sad, yes, but I don’t think anxious would be one of their feelings. The reason is that what people were dealing with back then was very very real. Bullets and bombs and shelters and food rations were painfully present. Every day, people would wake up and say a prayer because it might be their last day. They would read the news and be certain that the Nazis would arrive today to their town. It wasn’t a subtle fear or a speculative argument like in today’s papers. The tanks are at our doorstep was a real situation to be dealt with.
We live in a comfortable, mostly secure society 60 years later. In a country like New Zealand, there are no food rations or curfew at night, no sirens and atomic blast drills in elementary schools. People are forgetting that death is something real. And that is, of course a good thing. I wouldn’t want it to be otherwise, and nothing would make me happier than see it disappear in the rest of the world, where people still have to actually fight over the right to exist. But there’s a negative outcome of this much safety: We are becoming anxious, depressed bags of boredom.
There is nothing in front of us that seems real anymore. Money is a bunch of algorithms in servers around the world, not a pile of gold or silver. Religion is dying, churches are getting empty. Fame is transitory and lasts about 2 weeks in Twitter, or 15 minutes if you’re a Youtube video. And because of that, meaning is nowhere physical to be found anymore. And we are human beings with meaning tattooed on our foreheads. We crave meaning in every single thing we do. We have a reason to do every single activity in our busy schedules, yet we are not finding the meaning of life anywhere, anymore. It used to be killing Nazis. Now it’s nowhere in particular.
So we need meaning in our lives in order to feel like complete beings, and when that reason to exist is lost, either because we grow up in that safe, secure environment or because we achieve security through hard work and savings, we keep telling ourselves that we should be fulfilled because that house is ours, or that new car is now inside our garage. Yet, we crash against a dichotomy of meaning. It doesn’t really fulfil us. “But that doesn’t make sense”, we think with our very confused minds, “I did everything by the book to achieve that sense of meaning. Life is meaningful because I have this, or because I will achieve this in 5 years time, by the power of the Law of Attraction.” Then you achieve that goal and feel very proud of yourself for… a year? Two? Certainly no longer than three.
Remember when you were a kid and you built a fortress in the living room using the couch’s cushions? You might have a similar experience if this was not your case, but I can still remember the thrill of it. There you are, inside a cave built by yourself, with only your hands and wits. You are living adventures from that fortress. Protecting your kingdom from dragons. Piloting your very own spaceship. Watching the annoying aunt who came to visit and plotting your lair defence if she dared to come close. You could spend the night there if your parents were kind enough. This was your shrine. A self-made, completely customizable temple you made by yourself, for yourself. A cushion fortress was the highest of joys for a small kid. But I think the reason it was so important, so valuable, is that you were the creator of it. You made it happen. It gave you purpose.
Just like we keep reading in self-help books and lectures, the real value is in the journey, not the destination. To set yourself a goal and live by that goal will only work until you achieve it. Then, you’ll have to face the reality of a meaningless existence. To protect yourself from that, you make yourself a very busy person, like I did with my computer. The computer became my cushion fortress. A place where I can be safe, that gave me purpose. I made it do things for me. I was the creator and the ruler of what it happened inside that thin sandwich of electronics. So it’s natural that meaning doesn’t really show up. You think your life has a meaning until you shut off the computer for a month. It’s only been 4 days and I know with all my heart my life is meaningless without it. Does that mean it wasn’t meaningless when I used it every day? Or does it really mean it was a life with no purpose, and I was just covering myself from realizing that with my cushion fortress?
This explains my anxiety perfectly. I didn’t want to be conscious of this. So I got away as far as I could from myself, and protected my inner child with a laptop that worked as a front. Behind it, I was getting further and further apart from my own thoughts and feelings. And feelings are what you notice first when you do little experiments like this. We are very mental people. Our society has explained what used to be unexplainable, and that gives us the erroneous impression that everything must and should be explained with our minds. It made our feelings worthless. And feelings tell you so much more about yourself than books. What resonates with you, what feels right. It’s no longer a reality in today’s modern societies. We follow other people’s advices on what feels right and what is good for us. They give us the same advice over and over again. Consume. Set a bigger goal. Set a bigger goal after that one. They never say “start feeling, and listening to that feeling in you. It will tell you what to do.”
To listen to myself. That’s gotta be the greatest revelation of my life, and I’ve managed to dull it down with oh-so-many things to do. Those have become my protection from realizing the truth. And it’s time I say this truth out loud, here. To anyone that cares to read this.
We are afraid of the void of existence. But the reason we are afraid is, we think there’s no such void.
But there is void. In fact, there is nothing but void.
And you shouldn’t try reading these lines and conclude I’ve become a nihilist. Actually, I’m enjoying life a lot more since the realization of this. We struggle so much to find meaning out there. If we realized there was no meaning out there to be found, what would that mean? To a typical cerebral person, it means all is lost and we should just give up in looking for it. But if you analyse this deeper, it really means you’ve been using your time and energy in looking for something that you would never find. Purpose and meaning for your life in those goals you’ve put for yourself. Purpose and meaning in the destination. If that’s not a better illustration of those self-help phrases, I don’t know what is. It’s not about the destination. So is it, then, about the journey?
But to live your life in a meaningless universe, with no force acting on it to make it better or worse, with no purpose of life, with no destiny… isn’t that… sad? Well it would be if you thought it should have a purpose. If your conclusion is that this should be different, then of course it’s sad, because it is unfair. But what would happen if you are supposed to navigate in this empty void of nonsense that we call life, and your only hope for meaning is that it’s something you define by living it? Then you’re in need of a raft of your own.
A cushion fortress.
Just like my laptop acting as a shield against realizing my life is meaningless, I can build my fortress to shield me against said meaningless existence. That fortress is in every single second of my life. It’s not dependant on whether I land that sweet job or make a million dollars (what is this, 1980? Let’s upgrade that to a billion dollars). It’s not based on anything in my life changing its course or setting a bigger, better goal in my life. My new cushion fortress to navigate through this void is meant to become my own personal religion, home, family and land. It’s in my own feeling of what resonates with me. And by listening to it, I can be certain that I’m navigating in the right direction.
And the best part of all, this cushion fortress is not made of anything physical, or even mental or explained by natural phenomena. It’s made of my own deep self that is communicating with me through feelings. So it can’t be destroyed by a recession or a war, because as long as I can sense feelings, any type of feeling, it’s gonna be there. Nobody can enter this fortress and destroy it. It’s customized to fulfil me and only me. It’s a feeling of safety in a world that people just lose their brain cells out in finding meaning in, like looking for the needle in the haystack (and that needle is made of a quantum material that disappears from existence the moment you look for it). This place where I can go to is there for me every single second of my life. This is what peace is made of. To me, peace is only real if it can’t be destroyed. And my own conscious feeling of my own existence can’t be destroyed as long as I live.
There is no God. There is no purpose. The cake is a lie. And this is the happiness of unhappiness. Because it’s all right. It’s not meant to be conquered. My life, or any life for that matter, is not a summit that needs to be reached to make sense. It’s a constant flow of present tense, in constant existence and with constant value. As long as I’m aware, I can access it, and just close my eyes for a second to connect to my own feeling, pleasant or unpleasant, and let it happen. No purpose, no goal. No law of attraction. No heaven or hell. No end.
Wow this got poetic all of a sudden. Sorry about that. I’ll add an addendum to this big bunch of words that don’t make much sense when February ends. Until then, I’ll just sit back and enjoy as many seconds of it as I can.