Life in the Making (Free writing about meaning and story)

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I have a lot of random experiences in my life that could make for humorous storytelling. Some of them are less than flattering of my judgement and character. Other stories I could tell relate to some of the more tragic circumstances in my life; tragic only because I was putting extra effort into acting tragically. I don’t think I consciously worked at this, but the idea popped into the back of my mind occasionally that if things went really bad maybe I’d get a tragic Lifetime movie made out of my sad existence. Sad only if it had ended in the few spots where it seemed possible. A made for Lifetime movie would probably be the real tragic event, everything else being unnecessary or at the very least misguided drama.

Most of us probably have a few moments in our lives that could have been the end, or could have been the situation that resulted in everything following it being tragically altered. I’ve been in two rollover accidents in my life, both I walked away from basically unscathed. Then there are those various stories I could tell that perhaps will make it into a memoir but at this juncture would just border on TMI (too much information). Needless to say, we’ve all had those moments that when recollected take on the shape of good fodder for dramatic storytelling.

But that’s the thing, it’s not that these events inherently hold the weight that sometime later we infuse with particular meaning, it’s that story is one of the ways we’ve learned to make sense of our life and our world. This might be a worn topic, but it’s constantly coming up in my mind. Perhaps it’s because I’ve read so much this year, mostly nonfiction. And it’s very interesting to see how people retell history and form plot threads. Good guys, bad guys, conflict, resolution, these things exist mostly in our mind and are matters of subjectivity.

Surely pain and strife will come upon us, and it’s not that the meaning we cobble together has no meaning, it’s that things happen for a reason because we later give them the reasoning for why they happened. Especially if they were unexpected or if things didn’t happen as we intended them to.

I suppose the question worth asking might be ‘is there existential utility in considering from time to time that our meanings are meaningless in the objective sense, and that our life stories are made up after the fact as much as they are in the moment of the making?’ Is it worth asking? I don’t know, but I still ask myself that question all the time.

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Talking Less (The non-art of my own self deception)

the-fool-front-e1380690847246Featured Image: ‘The Fool’ a sculpture by Caitlin Smith @ www.caitlinaudreysmith.com

Communicating with language is a vital but equally frustrating process. Over the course of human evolution, the human brain has developed the apparatus for learning and understanding unique and specialized vocalizations. It is undeniably crucial to how we’ve progressed as a species; a key component in the rise of civilization and the resultant age of technology. It is not a stretch to suggest that most modern marvels wouldn’t exist if we didn’t possess the capacity for communicating with such detail and specificity.

But on an individual level, I’ve often noticed how inadequate or limited the spoken and written word feels when expressing ideas and emotions. Language, for all its beauty and utility, is still secondary to consciousness itself. Our thoughts and impressions precede the words that eventually arise to describe and explain them. There is always bound to be varying degrees of disconnection.

I’ve often been told I am good with words, that I have a distinctive knack for communicating my thoughts in both conversation and writing. Though there have been other times where I get labeled a bullshit artist or called out for glibness. While I’ve managed to grow in awareness when it comes to the perils of eloquence, there have been countless experiences where I was oblivious of how earnestly and with singular motivation I might be weaving a tale. A counselor once used that word ‘glib’ to describe me. That’s actually how I know the word exists; and it’s a pretty damn good word.

He observed that my ability to intellectualize just about anything was keeping me in a pattern of self destructive behavior. My intellect for a good while had been hijacked in service of more selfish and misguided intentions. This is basically glibness embodied. He gave it to me straight, and – not to suggest that I had everyone else fooled – he had bluntly pointed out the disconnect from my actual life by serving up a heaping plate of stark reality. It was still several years before I took much of a hint. Paradoxically, it would seem, that I was highly self aware while also being insidiously self deluded. Growing more mindful of the ego’s tricks takes time; and a boat-load of humbling experiences.

This is not all that unique, however. It’s a human failing. As Will Storr spotlights in the book The Unpersuadables, people who think they are the truth tellers, who are certain that they are the exception to the rule with regards to delusional thinking, are the most deluded of all. If you’re thinking to yourself right now while reading this that you are the exception, welcome to the desert of masterful self deception. He states at one point with little need for tact that “a great many of the findings from decades of experimental psychology come to one grand shameful conclusion: we are all deluded egotists” and that most of us experience a “restless urge to prove that [other people’s] world, and not ours, is the illusion.”

For some time, my chief delusion was thinking I was one of the few who truly had my eyes open to the nature of things. I was pretty good at convincing myself, and on occasion others, that this might be true. In retrospect, however, I see that I was just good at making other people leary of correcting me. Not because the convoluted defense I had for my troubled life was difficult to poke holes in, not because the logic was ironclad, but because it was too mind-numbing and laborious to attempt addressing me on a rational or emotional level. I needed Rafiki from The Lion King to come out of the underbrush and just smack me in the head with his staff.

Looking back on this floundering chapter in my life – this time of wrongly assuming that I traversed some inevitable path of sagacious self destruction – I now see the fundamental conceit by which I allowed this delusion to persist: I often talk way too much. This realization  has led me to consider the merits of talking less. In the past, even though I questioned myself endlessly, I still couldn’t manage going long before whipping myself into a frenzy with another facile philosophy of superficial wisdom; either soaring hope for improvement, or contrarian despair masquerading as iconoclastic and warped asceticism.

For a good portion of my life, and to a larger extent in the last 5 years, I never REALLY shut up and considered that maybe I don’t have the answers. Or if there are no concrete answers, at the time I didn’t possess  the will or resilience for cobbling together a method of gaining personal fulfillment. I built a model of reality that justified my failings. Seriously, what I needed was to shut the hell up for more than a little bit. And – at the risk of sounding overly metaphysical about it – I needed to listen to what life, the world, the universe had to teach me.

What’s intriguing about taking on this more humble approach to understanding is that, ultimately, the wisdom gained will still be one’s own. By talking less, by foregoing pontification and forcing less and less ego onto reality, a vision of what we want and need more naturally takes shape. And, remarkably, it will be far less rife with notions of self importance. I suggest that this kind of self discovery comes from letting your ego talk less, and not so much about the literal act of talking less. It’s still something we create, but is much more conducive to allowing life’s lessons to sink in.

From my own experience, still being in the early stages of ceasing my self-righteous destruction, diligence is key. Even with vigilance, my selfish desires and self doubts still creep and nag and look for ways to make themselves manifest in bombastic fashion. Only by remaining mindful of what triggers my more troubling tendencies am I able to see how that self-sabotage sneaks up. Am I listening to people? Am I listening to myself? Am I listening to the more subtle hum of peace that seemingly eluded me for so long? These questions must be answered before I talk; before I act. Without this habit of self inquiry, the charismatic ego can lead me in quick like fashion like a lemming off the cliff of sanity.