chart showing the body’s chemical and neurological activity when it feels love (as best we know), explained in my earlier posts on the chemistry of love
I am unhappy. I feel somewhat ashamed admitting this. Most of the people in the world would give anything to have what I have — good health, physical and financial comfort and security, love, a beautiful home environment, and a stimulating intellectual life. I have always been incredibly fortunate, the world’s most blessed agnostic.
Yet I am unhappy. The times when I have been happy recently have been times when my profound pessimism about the state of the world, my chronic sense of grief and anger about what humankind has done to this planet and the resultant massive suffering of all Earth’s creatures, are overwhelmed by the chemisty of new emotional and erotic love, the rush of ocytocin and phenylethylamine and dopamine and norepinephrine and testosterone. Once that rush is over, and all that’s left is the quiet comfort of endorphins of enduring love, that apparent happiness subsides, I crave new love, and I once again become unhappy.
Except that now that I am aware of this crazy addiction to the self-produced chemicals of new love, it is losing its hold over me. I want the chemical rush without the addiction, without the madness of pursuing and involving ever-more new people in my emotional life. I want the joy of new love without the loss of self-control, without the complications and the responsibility and the demands on my time and energies that come with the attachments of love.
Yes, I do get some happiness from aesthetic and sensual and intellectual love — when I listen to good music, when I play with animals (or play, in general), when I am exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking, and when something, late at night, usually connected with water, or wind, or light, or the sounds of wild creatures, stirs my heart. But these times are hard to come by, and they are transient. I don’t know what chemical or neurological responses these experiences set off in me that fills me with aesthetic delight, sensual pleasure and intellectual appreciation, but they lack the power of the cocktail of new emotional and erotic love.
I want more fun in my life. And I want my life to be, at last, easy. I have retired from paid work and I don’t want to work hard at anything any more. After 18 months free of wage-slave work, I am still exhausted. I still prefer to do nothing. But when I do nothing I feel empty, disconnected, not alive at all.
And I am quietly consumed with fear — of loss, of extreme discomfort, of getting hurt, of getting trapped, of getting depressed, of hurting people, of letting people down, letting the world down, letting myself down.
I have undertaken and been involved with several projects over the past 18 months, but I don’t feel my involvement has produced anything of real value, and I have largely disengaged from them. I haven’t found any new projects that are sufficiently imperative to me, or sufficiently fun, or sufficiently easy, that I’m motivated to take them up. There are lots of projects that need doing that I think I could contribute to, but I have no passion for them, or else I am afraid — of failure, of arrest, of losing interest in them before I’ve done what needs to be done. And there are many things I think I would be wise to learn, and to practice, in order to be more useful, or more balanced, or more resilient, but I have no patience for studying and practicing them.
I think I know myself well, better than I ever have, yet I feel that there is something wrong and I don’t know what it is. And I don’t know what to do about it. I am such a slow learner, and so self-unaware in the moment.
My sense is that my unhappiness is rooted in the cultural indoctrination that has so profoundly clouded the way I see everything, so wrenched me out of my natural self and into this place inside my head, coloured by everybody-else’s way of thinking, that I can no longer see things as they really are (wondrous, beautiful, spontaneous, connected, ever-present, boundaryless, joyful, abundant, eternal and vibrant) and instead am burdened with perceiving everything the way the disconnected human mind and civilized human culture see things (fearsome, urgent, hostile, full of evil and unfairness and error that must be vigorously and endlessly corrected and self-corrected and improved, controllable with sufficient effort, dangerous, full of struggle and scarcity, endlessly stressful, inherently tragic, and of course anthropocentric).
My instincts tell me that to be truly and sustainably happy I will have to learn to get outside my self-polluted and culturally-polluted head and re-learn to be a natural creature, to be at once nobody-but-myself and a connected part of all-life-on-Earth.
In this, my instincts, which I trust, are at odds with my mind and body, which are tired and unwilling to keep trying to break through this cultural conditioning, to rid myself of the lifetime of gunk that other people and my own contaminated sense-making process have covered me with, the stuff that keeps me everybody-else instead of nobody-but-myself.
But I’m girding myself up to try again, to practice until I learn to slow down and silence the noise in my head and just be, present, self-aware, Earth-aware (drawing on the larger, real context for making sense of life and what happens). More comfortable in wild places. And more play-full (in forms of play that are less earnest and less escapist and less cathartic, and more joyful).
I think this will entail me becoming a bit more self-indulgent, self-centred, less self-sacrificing and less busy, not in the sense of being less generous but rather in the sense of liberating myself from the influences of our terrible culture so that I can connect more with people as they truly are. So instead of getting caught up in their anxieties and cultural indoctrination I will be able to be connect with them as fellow feral creatures, and help them in their liberation instead of with the malaises that have resulted from their captivity.
I am not sure this makes sense, and I am not sure it will make me more sustainably happy. I’m not even sure I’m ready to try it and to persevere. But it seems to offer more promise than an unhappy cycle of love addiction and love-sickness.