Humans struggle with many things in our tiny and ultimately insignificant lives. Many of these things are tangible and physical problems like money and family and geography. The most powerful and difficult challenges that we face, however, are those inside of our heads. Our perspectives, emotions, hopes and regrets define who we are, what we’re capable of, and whether or not our lives are generally worth it or not. Mankind has collectively evolved over the millennia, redefining the meaning of life and the purpose of human existence. Thousands of years ago, the purpose of life itself (if even contemplated) was survival. Next- community, theocracy, aristocracy, expansionism, colonialism, democracy, and now (kind of) simple self interest. Ironically, now that we have no longer a need to fight for our survival (at least in this privileged bubble of the world), our need for contemplative abilities has exponentially decreased. Our contemporary society values frivolity and distraction above all else. The more you are skilled at distracting a population- be it on TV or in a sports arena or developing an app to consume millions of hours, the more you are rewarded. This dire need for distraction and external fulfillment speaks to a much larger and deeply buried secret within the collective unconsciousness. There is no point.
Albert Camus, French Nobel Laureate and critically acclaimed cynic, penned an essay in 1942 called The Myth of Sisyphus (http://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/hell/camus.html). The title relates to an icon from Greek mythology sentenced to perpetually roll a boulder up an insurmountable hill and then have the boulder roll back down at the end of the day. In many ways, this philosophical problem is remarkably akin to the human condition today. We constantly strive to succeed at some goal – happiness, fulfillment, progress, wealth, knowledge etc.- but we are forever unable to transcend, no matter how we ascend. Limitations that society, family, friends, and even those that we put on ourselves render us incapable of fully immersing ourselves in reality and in our passions. Camus writes: “Likewise and during every day of an unillustrious life, time carries us. But a moment always comes when we have to carry it. We live on the future: “tomorrow,” “later on,” “when you have made your way,” “you will understand when you are old enough.” Such irrelevancies are wonderful, for, after all, it’s a matter of dying. Yet a day comes when a man notices or says that he is thirty. Thus he asserts his youth. But simultaneously he situates himself in relation to time. He takes his place in it. He admits that he stands at a certain point on a curve that he acknowledges having to travel to its end. He belongs to time, and by the horror that seizes him, he recognizes his worst enemy. Tomorrow, he was longing for tomorrow, whereas everything in him ought to reject it. That revolt of the flesh is the absurd. (11)”
Our contemporary condition is one of alienation, boredom, and confusion or ignorance-induced apathy. We are given a standardized pathway through life and told that mis-stepping is unacceptable and wrong. Each set of four years means another notch on our to-do list. Through elementary, middle, and high-school, then college and graduate school, then work, work, work, work, and save enough money to finally fuel our passions. Ironically and morbidly though, the stage in our lives when pursuing our passions is an acceptable and ‘deserved’ thing is the last one when we may not be able to physically or mentally keep up with the grandiosity of our youthful ideals. Humanity finds itself constantly bored with the present moment and constantly searching for the fulfillment and gratification of the future. We are not taught in any institution nor led kindly by the hand to realize and explore our present passions. To do so requires paradigm shifts of the highest order, an unquenchable thirst for rebellion, and a strength and continuity of self nigh impossible to master in two decades.
SO WHATThis is a very big question indeed. So what? Our passions remain isolated from our ‘duty’ and ‘vocation’. So what? It is almost impossible to forgo a formal education, separate ties from familial obligation and societal dependency. So what that there is no predetermined meaning of life and we must constantly discover our own or be sucked into the mires of depression and apathy? Modern society has access to all of human information, galactic maps, a sense of scale within the infinitely vast universe, and the collective resources to do anything we can imagine. And yet we are extraordinarily unfocused and unhappy, perpetuating misery, ignorance, and boredom with each bureaucratic behemoth we implement. Karl Marx described Alienation (http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/s3002.html) as the dichotomy between passion and purpose. This dichotomy has been underscored, embellished, and branded into the framework of the modern concept of work. The solutions are few and somewhat trite, short of suggesting global unified peaceful revolution in order to tear down those limitations that insidiously find their way into our heads.
Regardless, I have digressed. The point is that there is no point. Already in existence are mind-bogglingly enormous systems of control that have wrenched control away from the individual and into the hands of impartial gigantic entities that see all life as equal in insignificance. I must seriously argue the survival value of human life stripped of individual passion, desire, and ability. In order to beat the game without playing it indefinitely, we must analyze the roots of our boredom and the ways in which we can beat ourselves. Sami Gray offers a refreshing look at boredom in her essay, A Refreshing Look at Boredom http://search.proquest.com/docview/233395198: Whether chronic or episodic, boredom begins with alienation from our own bodies and our feelings. We learn to do this in Western culture, which devalues the natural world outside us and within us, distrusts feelings and the “nonrational” (which often means just about everything outside of the profit motive) and encourages addictive ways of life, ways of thinking. The “new hedonism” demands that we be “happy” at all costs. We often live as if we expect that life can and must be pain free. But in shutting ourselves off from pain, we shut ourselves off from life, and the result is boredom, followed by attempts to escape that boredom. Gray’s analysis offers great insight into the concept addictive thinking. We are told to think in a certain way, which then becomes an affliction we cannot remove. But what if we shut those external voices up and gave our Id and Ego megaphones?
In order to become happier, fuller, more powerful and less bored, we must be extraordinarily mindful. We must strive to be constantly and specifically aware of our emotions and emotional reactions. We must be able to control our perspective in order to return to the beautiful continuous present. No matter how difficult it is or it seems, we are creatures of unlimited potential if we remove or silence the limitations that worm their way into our heads and hearts. We have to be able to sit comfortably and immerse ourselves in the flow of time rather than desperately worry and fight against it. We have to aspire to make ourselves BEST. We must not drift too far forwards or too far backwards but be able to use the past and our idealizations of the future in order to serve our present selves best. If we do these things, we are indomitable. Our love and happiness is completely self-generated and perpetuated, and we will no longer want or need external verification to feel good about ourselves. The journey is extremely difficult, easy, short, long, happy, miserable, rancid, and beautiful. It is all a simple matter of paradoxical perspective. The moment we decide and continue to be the sole masters of our fates is the real beginning of our passionate lives. The last words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, another one of the most famous Frenchmen and writers to ever live, were : “I go to seek a great perhaps.” These words hold as much truth in life as they do in death. Our futures are nigh unpredictable. The point is to seek, to search, to quest and to love it. I seek many great perhaps, and as much as I struggle to love the quest, I know I will never stop searching.
“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”- Camus Works Cited http://search.proquest.com/docview/233395198 http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/855563-le-mythe-de-sisyphe http://www.moq.org/forum/Kundert/AbsurdityandtheMeaningofLife.html http://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/hell/camus.html http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/s3002.htm http://balooscartoonblog.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html