My culture is full of contradiction. Paradoxes have been swallowed so thoroughly that they now unquestionably make sense. Meanwhile, routes to happiness and wellbeing are presented as impossible paradoxes.
But occasionally these mythical routes don’t seem that confusing to me. Sometimes, when the real contradictions are finally acknowledged they can be undone, and what’s left seems remarkably aligned.
– I must be genuine, but I must also fit in at all costs
– I am so anxious to strive for happiness, I can’t ever touch it
– The more I focus my efforts on the future wellbeing, the less I can enjoy the present moment where pleasure actually resides
– The more I desire to BECOME something, the less I am likely to ever BE anything
– The more security I get, the more I need
– The busier I get, the more there is to do and the less I feel I get done
– The more I attempt to protect myself and my loved ones from things I fear, the more isolated and anxious I become, and the less capable we all are to face them
– I can work 60 hour weeks to give my children the best start in life I can, and in doing so deprive them of the best thing I can possibly give them
– The more I drink, smoke or guzzle chocolate to make myself feel good, the more it fills me with illness
When I look at this list I see some clear features. Firstly, they are all about CONTROL: the struggle to bend the world to my will. Secondly, they are all about MORE: there is never enough. Thirdly, they are all about SEPARATION: the world is made up of ‘this’ and ‘that’, and more of ‘this’ means more or less of ‘that’.
That is what our culture is all about: the meddlesome quest to assert human will over nature and each other, the anxiety of scarcity and never enough, the relentless drive to grow as people and organisations and nations and species at the expense of the competition. It should be no surprise that, in a culture that lacks any sense, I learn to swallow the contradictions and see them as simple facts of life.
In this lamentable position, the standard answer is obvious and universal: TRY HARDER!
This futile conflict is a dehumanising and accelerating spiral which sucks the magic out of life and the land, making ourselves, our race and our planet glossy but very brittle, busy but increasingly empty. It fuels itself dangerously – much like I imagine happening in a nuclear reactor, only there is the important difference that the colliding particles in our culture are each endowed with choice, whether they know it (or like it) or not.
So I have found that maybe it doesn’t have to be that way, when choice is acknowledged. This is a very encouraging thought.
Here are some things I feel lucky enough to have experienced in brief flashes:
– Embracing uncertainty and insecurity brings me clarity and hope
– Love and pain co-exist. Accepting one lets in the other. Seeking to eliminate one eliminates the other, leaving me with numbness
– Doing something for love, and not for any functional reason, infuses it with deep meaningfulness
– Spending time in nature, in the more-than-human world, brings me closer to my human-ness
– Seeking to experience peace in myself and in everyday, ordinary things is my primary and most effective contribution to world peace
In a culture of isolation and scarcity, each of these examples can appear to be a paradox. Through that lens, where everything is adversarial, how can love and pain, human and non-human, me and them, ever be seen as part of the same thing? When contradictions are seen as normality, it makes twisted sense to see things that go naturally together as contradictory. Our culture seems to occupy a parallel universe, parallel to another place occupied by happiness, peace and reality, to our great detriment and suffering.
These experiences, rather than from trying harder, arise from letting go. There is little trace of letting go in my surrounding culture at the moment, so I must first look inside to nurture an alternative culture, along with other comrades interested in a similar thing. As I continue watching myself at work every day in my contradictions, the brief flashes become a little brighter. The fool who persists in his folly becomes wise?
So that’s it – I’m going to try really hard to let go.