The English philosopher John Hobbes probably wasn’t the first, nor certainly the last to say, ‘life is nasty, brutish and short’. Now, what are we going to do about it, if we don’t just simply put our faith in more ideals involving a redemptive future?
The basic information of life is always in front of us, clear enough for anyone to see, so our problem is not that we’re lacking facts. The question instead is, when will we be ready to accept it? Instead, we would much rather over complicate things as a distraction from this basic information we’d rather avoid.
To be consciously aware of the crushing simplicity of the basic structure we are up against is not so easy a thing to face up to. Running contrary to popular belief, this is the true manifesto if there was one for the spiritual journey. This is not what people want to hear for sure; not the adding and learning, notions of progress, healing, or wherever else we may imagine we are destined where this will all make sense and seem just and fair.
Then again, engendering more hope and new myths to believe in is not only dishonest, and most of these myths are bought at a price anyway (because we are desperately asking too to have them sold to us), it’s a great and possibly fatal distraction. To live life as it actually is, how it presents itself, free from transcendental assumptions and comforts, is an incredible possibility in its dynamic aliveness.
Yet, we seek to purchase our leave from it, not completely content to let it go either, we allow ourselves to slip into a somnambulistic stupor based around most evidently false ideas of our progress towards some final redemption. The elderly often realise this to be a sham, but then they’re often too old and disillusioned to speak out, or they invest their hope in their progency. But small comfort for not really living this is.
Content with some perfunctory sense of meaning based somewhere over the rainbow, we approach life as an attempt at sensory appeasement in the most basic way possible. Afraid to dig deeper, yet the fear still lurks below the surface and when it doesn’t our lack of any significant relation to reality bores us. Suspended between these two poles, with a choice of two pyres, all we can do is try and take shelter in any momentary source of physical comfort we can.
Our basic problem is the habitual seeing of life through the eyes of the rational mind. This presupposes a firm identity from which to look out from. So everywhere we look all we see is the myth of an eternal and consistent self. Evidently, our conclusions then are quite different to how they might be if we didn’t put so much faith in the rational or the platform within which they are located. This will always lead us to the same place, the attempt at creating a future where this can keep its sense of continuity. After all, what can be imagined or known if this mind is not there.
Here, we are struck with the vision of nothingness and best a hasty retreat. Furthermore, society is our great enabler in this game of denying that the reality we look our upon we are actually not the centre of, but a mere speck in its eye.
This is because, outside the constraints of the rational, what’s inside is a disordered, chaotic, and tangled cauldron of emotions, ideas, and primal urges, lacking the consistency and predictability we rely on to act socially to one another.
We also need to be convinced of the lie here too; that we are something other than what we are, and not just on the surface, otherwise we couldn’t be trusted to honour our side of the bargain when the others backs are turned. We have to actually believe in a set sense of self, who is self / autonomous and responsible for their own destiny. Moreover, a being involved in an independent meaning-structure based on our imperious claims as a species on the road, essentially, to evolution as the Gods we claim to worship.
This self-deception would be quite fine, but, rather curiously, we can’t quite fully believe it. Doubt and self-antagonism is hidden, pushed, inside. We know ourselves, on a very intuitive level to be something different, and so living now is imbued with the imprint of the shame at our deception; both of ourselves and others. Our guilt then leads to a further need for redemption, wherein lies the basic structure of all religion.
If only we can learn the teachings well enough. This was the basic premise of religion, but then that started to seem a bit far flung and so we opted for faith in science, and now, maybe just studying the requisite information to maintain material comfort for ourselves and family. Our bar of expectations has now been set so low we dare dream of nothing at all. It’s quite a despairing and nihilistic time. The only solace to numb the boredom and fear, shopping for goods we don’t really need at the weekend, now even more vapid as done online.
Still, the fear pricks us when we imagine the implication of breaking the rules, so generally we don’t. Even so, our sustaining myths are getting thin on the ground, and with the lack of anything else providing nutrition on the table, arises the anger at being constrained at doing whatever is perceived to ameliorate the alternate pangs of boredom and fear. We have a volatile mixture ready to erupt, and it’s happening more and more frequently.
In contrast to all this we can take the understandably not immediately beguiling road to realising what it feels like to be a speck of dust in the eye of the universe.
To fully accept, and not just know in the mind, but in the very body, in the very fabric of whatever awareness consists of that no further significance can be posited other than that of a highly refined biological organism, on the road to an imminent death. Our only great differentiation from the animal realm also abiding in our far greater ability for mental suffering. Ironic, we even console ourselves with this as the hallmark for our greater permanence and immortality.
As stated at the beginning, the true spiritual aspirant does not grapple with further transcendental meaning or verification. Instead, the attempt is to try to tolerate this state of unknowing and our lack of the positive answers we want to hear in the face of a starker immediate reality. To hold the tension, even in the physical body as well as the rational mind of carrying on living against the backdrop of unresolvable questions.
This has been recorded by many to not be as grim an endeavour as it may seem, and, even if it were; it is real; somewhere deep within we crave the truth, and if pressed I would say this is the noble and defining factor of the human species.
Living within the bounds of what we can truthfully guarantee and living our lives as such may can lighten our experience. After all, the beauty of life is nothing more than the very fragility and transience of its manifestations. If we are looking for meaning, what can it reside in other than the fickle nature of beauty?
This very temporality, the constant flux of ourselves and the very nature we perceive also could engender the only obvious other source of meaning, a truer sense of relationship between each other. When we don’t have such a solid belief in the sovereignty of our individual preferences and our road to self-actualisation, realising our potential, or the many other ways we like to phrase it, we actually may stop to consider one another. There’s not one quality particular, unique, or inherent to us alone then may give us a greater sense of semblance.
The only thing we share is the pathos and suffering of our temporary and fragile body, on the way to a certain end against the will of its very life force. No one, or anything else has any further answers to save us alone, so we may surrender the constant battle with each other and simply be kind. But, actually, beauty and kindness may be still quite a lot to live by.