- I should be grateful (and ‘get over myself’)
- I should stop thinking so much and just be
- I should act (do what my instincts tell me ‘needs’ to be done) and those actions will resolve my unhappiness and lack of presence (along these lines, this fascinating article asserts our actions drive our beliefs — what we do determines who we are — rather than the other way around)
We are, I believe, products of both (a) our biology (‘we’ are a collection, a complicity, of cells and organs in a watery sack, cells and organs that together evolved our minds, our ‘consciousness’, as a feature-detection, protection and mobility management device for their — our organs’ — benefit) and (b) our culture (we are ‘each’ a part of an evolving society, a larger organism, self-organized for our collective survival). Both ‘we’s’ are extraordinarily complex, beyond more than rudimentary knowing, so we flounder around, pushed in often different directions by our biological selves and our cultural selves, profoundly un-self-aware and profoundly ‘alone’.
We have, arguably, no identity — there is no ‘us’ other than our constituent organs (whose consciousness and knowledge are largely unfathomable to our ‘minds’) and the self-delusion of ourselves as ‘individuals’ which has been created and ‘taught’ to us by our culture (through its propaganda tool, language) for their collective purpose. Our cells and organs, our microcosmic selves-as-collection, are in a relentless war with our culture, our macrocosmic selves-as-part, and the battleground is our minds. We might see ourselves as being at the mercy of two colonizing forces, one that created our minds for its purposes and the other trying endlessly to co-opt our minds for its purposes. Except that there is no ‘ourselves’ to be colonized. The suffering and weary terrain of our minds has no natives. There is no ‘us’ to take sides in this battle. We are, as I keep saying, just the space through which stuff (chemicals, information, ideas) passes.
I don’t mean this post to be about the existence, or not, of free will. I am trying to get at something more profound, about the non-existence of identity. When we fall in love, when we crave, or nurture, or erupt, or laugh, or cry, or cower, or mourn, we are doing our biology’s carefully-selected bidding — our cells and organs count on ‘us’ doing these things, for their health and survival, so they flush our minds so full of powerful chemicals that we can do nothing else. When we join others, in war, in celebration, in protest, in recreation, in obedience, in activism, in outrage, in conversation, in solidarity, in community, and especially in acceptance of our social situation, social norms and worldviews, we are doing our culture’s carefully-programmed bidding — our civilization counts on us doing these things, for its health and survival.
When the imperatives of our biology (“go hit on that beautiful creature over there”) and those of our culture (“unfaithfulness to one’s partner — and you can only have one partner — is a sin with ghastly consequences”) are in conflict, we feel obliged (and empowered) to make a ‘choice’ which to obey. But it is hardly a choice — ‘we’ are in truth merely spectators of the conflict, and they will determine the winner.
When my cells and organs have decided it is in their interest for me to make a bond with someone, they stimulate my imagination to create a fiction in my mind of who that person ‘is’, what they are feeling, and what my relationship with them is or could or should be, that cannot possibly be real, since no one can ‘know’ what it is to be another person. The two of us act out a script, more or less mindlessly, that has been written by our respective bodies, in testosterone and oxytocin and other colourful inks, with characters and plot sufficiently delicious to make us enjoy the performance, and hopefully to enchant us to repeat it, at least until it gets boring and a change of cast is called for.
Likewise our culture uses us, brainwashing us from birth into believing that we have rights within and responsibilities to that culture, and that the way it dictates we live our lives is the only way to live, until we lose awareness that we have given up our freedom (in order to continue at a scale of 7 billion, our culture must now dictate and micromanage our every behaviour) and our health (our bodies are not evolved to cope with civilization’s endless and intense anxiety, so stress-catalyzed chronic physical and mental illnesses are epidemic). And in the process, we have mindlessly desolated our planet and precipitated a sixth great extinction of life on it.
Why has our culture done this to us? As I have written before, I think it is because we became too smart for our own good. Much of what civilization has wrought is an unintended consequence of the evolution of the human brain to the point that our inventions and technologies outpaced our ability to come to grips with their consequences, and to the point that we fell under the thrall of the imagined world inside our heads and others’ ability to manipulate that world, until we became, as ee cummings put it, “everybody-else” — the tide in the war between our biology and our culture shifted inexorably in favour of the latter. Once we became ‘smart’ enough to realize at an existential level that we were completely, utterly alone, we were even more willing recruits to the side of our culture, which comforts us with the illusion that we are not.
So now, retired, with a comfortable pension, free of debts and obligations, living by myself on top of a hill on a staggeringly beautiful island, I am free, at last, to spend the time to contemplate what all this means. To strip off the mask and belief systems and worldview and other gunk that my culture covered me over with for more than fifty years and told me was ‘me’ and stand naked, feral, unencumbered. To stand outside my biological self, still preoccupied with creature comforts and its self-induced chemical addictions. To stand outside my cultural self, so long preoccupied with the carefully-crafted fictions about my ‘self’ and the past and the future and how to behave.
And to realize that, outside of these two warring tyrant ‘selves’, there is no ‘me’. No volition. no ego, no identity, no purpose. Just space.
When I first experienced this ‘spacey’ feeling I feared it was disconnection, which is often, for me, a precursor to depression. But I’m starting to realize that it’s not disconnection from all-life-on-Earth, but from civilization culture, and it’s not disengagement, it’s re-engagement, liberation. It’s just very new to me, and not a little scary. I don’t know what to do with my ‘self’. I am meditating, taking yoga, and spending as much time as possible language-free (no talking or listening or reading or writing). I am listening to, and writing, songs without words. I am spending time in nature trying to just be, to accept what is, to let go, to really see and sense and feel. Raw.
When I am with people, now, even people I love, I am impatient. I don’t want to behave in a ‘civilized’ way anymore. I don’t want to talk at all. I don’t want to care about how others have been trapped by civilization culture, and the terrible minutiae and infinite suffering of their lives — I don’t believe in ‘saving’ people, and recognize (at last) that it is up to them to liberate themselves. I just want to ‘be’ with people who just ‘are’ themselves. Uncivilized. Primal. Wild. In the hope that, in their presence, we can learn together how to be nobody-but-ourselves.
I sit here, naked, on the deck, on the hill, staring up at the moon. Rachmaninoff playing in the background, and the sound of owls in the dark in the nearby trees. Breathing. Letting go. Dissipating, falling apart, crying, howling, becoming part of all-life-on-Earth, which calls me, always, quietly, home.