What’s a good example of a three-word sentence than can turn the world upside-down in a split second? “I love you!” would probably be the popular choice and rightfully so, for this simple incantation holds the power to move mountains, if not the Earth itself. No qualms here. Still, there are bigger fish in the sea, such as “Execute Order 66!” or even the (in)famous “I’ll do it tomorrow” Yet, ourinfinite Universe can offer even more. The foundations of philosophy, religion, even civilization itself, can be condensed into three simple words:
What is Life?
Fortune-cookie wisdom advises us that answers often hide within the questions being asked. In this case, we have two clues: 1) there’s a thing called life and 2) since all things go in pairs and have opposites, there must be a thing called non-life (colloquially known as Death). Why is the question relevant? Because partaking in the grandiose spectacle of Life is what binds everything together, it is the ubiquitous trait that transcends nationality, age, gender, race, species, and the allegiance to the prokaryotic or eukaryotic kingdom of organisms.
Contrary to what the contemporary anthropocentric narrative likes us to believe, humans are not the exception, but merely another propagation of life, a peculiar result of an arduous evolutionary process that lasted for millions of years. We boast about our ability to create and build, but we ourselves are creations of a chef that left the oven on for too long some 13.8 billion years ago. Since then, we’ve successfully emerged from the primordial soup and clawed our way to dominance over the planet and each other with the aid of intelligence and consciousness.
Despite our achievements, the human condition remains a mystery. Some argue that reality is a free-for-all where everything is there for the taking. Competition is the driving force of the evolution and to refrain from using our abilities for our individual or group benefit would be a transgression against the natural order. Others advocate that indulging selfish tendencies and pursuing feverish dreams of wealth, power and permanence prevents from obtaining true understanding and creates suffering. One thing is clear – Progress has not been able to satisfy our search for meaning and enable us to mature with at the rate of technological advancement...
To understand ourselves, we must first explore and acknowledge our intrinsic nature and recognize that we’re part of the same fundamental process. Imagine a car – you can talk about different brands, characteristics and engines, but if are unfamiliar with the concept of a car altogether, these details become meaningless. Humans are a form of life and not independently spawned divine beings to whom the natural laws don’t apply, even though our ego likes to whisper that we’re different. To gain insight about ourselves, we must do no more than grasp the totality of the is and is-not. Couldn’t be simpler.
So, what is life? Is it the same as existence? Does it have meaning or purpose? Is all life the same? Why do we live?
The following is a continuation of my attempt to explore the human condition through my personal experiences. The previous two parts are available here (1,2), but are in no way prerequisite, as each piece is a standalone time-capsule of thoughts, emotions and circumstances.
Back to the Future
The alarm went off and I woke up. The window of my new apartment overlooks a sizeable patch of unusually clear autumn sky, as well as a small, somewhat secluded garden area, where a family of street cats occasionally likes to gather, play and partake in a fascinating form of feline theatre can warm the iciest of hearts. It could’ve been an obituary board in a random village in a foreign country on a different continent for all I cared. With the morning drowsiness still weighing heavily upon my body, I gruntingly stumbled to the bathroom.
As the relief expelled some of the demons nested within my skull, a list of the daily tasks unfolded – brush my teeth, walk the dog, drink coffee, work, exercise, get some groceries, clean my room, etc. I tried to prolong my bathroom experience for as long as possible, as it marked the starting line for the rest of my day. I didn’t particularly look forward towards any of the aforementioned activities. In fact, I resented doing all of them. Every day brought a new list of tedious chores that had to be taken care of. It felt like someone kept shoveling shit into my room and the pile only grew larger and more putrid.
The above is a summary of my general mental state over the last several months. It gradual psychological decline that began after I found an attractive corporate job, as described in Part I. In addition to the usual new-job stress, the initial couple of months were filled with a lot of insecurity, fear and importantly – resistance.
I felt locked in a battle of titanic proportions, as my personal ideology clashed with the realities of corporate employment that are society’s equivalent to the sinister dementors portrayed within the pages of the Harry Potter series. Defiance and fury raged through me, like an immune reaction helping my body fight and overcome the menace that threatened to shatter my worldview. In time however, the resentment transformed into irritation, eventually giving way to apathy. Like any word “apathy” is a long way from conveying the mental states and emotions that it is supposed to reflect, but I’ll stick with it for a lack of a better alternative.
Before I started writing this piece, I decided to retrace my steps and re-read Part I and Part II of the series. The aim was to make a comparison between my past and present state of mind and find some noteworthy conclusion about myself through the benefit of hindsight. My mind retained a strong imprint of the general outlines and ideas of the two texts, but I was completely taken aback by how accurately I was able to predict my current situation.
To get straight to the point – what is the “locomotion of stagnation”? It’s the most precise description to describe my psychological condition after the publication of the last blogpost. “Mental Freeze” is good alternative. I froze, as if my thoughts and emotions were removed or shut down. I stumbled mindlessly through each day, putting in the bare minimum of effort/involvement required for any given task and then repeated the process. Over and over and over again. The hamster wheel in my head had broken down. Or to paraphrase my own writings – I’d turned into a husk of flesh, reduced to a set of basic of functions, a hypnotized zombie that physically existed, but was stripped of its humanity.
I constantly attacked and berated myself for my apparent weakness. After all, I had more than billions of people can dream of – a place to call home, health, financial independence, freedom of movement, social contacts, etc. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic I even had the luxury of working from home and escaping the hassle of commuting to work and getting up early. Instead of relief and comfort, these circumstances increased the psychological pressure of my failure to “get things right” and destroyed my confidence. For if I was unable to thrive in such favorable conditions, then catastrophe was all but guaranteed in every other case.
First World Problems
The reason for all this distress seems obvious – I don’t like my job. Fair enough, a sentiment shared by millions. The second revelation of the matryoshka-like issues matrix is the inability to approach or solve this problem. Self-help books, attempts of introspection, psychological counseling, as well as other methods, haven’t uncovered some deeply entombed passion/interest that I can latch upon and use to blast off the swamp of misery formed by constant self-loathing. On the other hand, due to a lack of confidence I’m unable to draw strength and stability from all the positive things that I have going for me. Whether this lack of confidence is in reality a failure to keep my own ego in check remains to be seen, but the destabilizing effect is there regardless.
Is that really the reason why I felt so insecure? The situation in question is probably a symptom of deeper underlying issues that can have various causes, rather than the result of a single root-of-all-evil kind of psychological complex. So far, I’ve been able to identify one of these hidden causes – fear.
When encountering a difficult situation, we usually get a gut feeling, an instinct steering us one way or the other. That instinct may be wrong, but it provides a basis to act upon. We analyze the potential consequences of our actions and base our decisions on the logical steps thought to lead us to the desired outcomes. There can be dozens of ways to cross a river – build a bridge, swim, go around or even turn back. Every choice then opens its own myriad of possibilities and pathways and events then proceed to unfold on their own. Whether we end up close to our original estimation or in a different universe altogether doesn’t actually matter, because the current of life continues to push our ship onwards, regardless of our wishes.
I had no gut feeling or instinct how act and address the issue altogether. This impasse spawned fear and pooled with my innate self-doubt, a condition which WebMD would probably categorize as impostor syndrome. Or ass cancer.
The initial onset consisted of indecision and hesitation – “I don’t like my current path, should I continue following it?”. Followed by confusion – “I’m stuck and don’t know what to do about it. Fuck!”. And finally, despair – “I’m powerless do anything about it!”. In the previous “Confessions” I mention the mental paralysis caused by fear and our inability to trust ourselves due to contemporary society’s tendency to guide us on well-trodden paths. Instead of exploring life’s mysteries and discovering our own nature and character through personal experience, we set out to become whatever the chosen path demands of us. As comfort becomes the norm, any deviation of it becomes a source of stress, instead of mere inconvenience.
The passive pressure to align oneself to a set of predetermined professions or societal roles and eventually morph into the assemblage of traits required by that preferred occupation is what I refer to with the phrase “intellectual assassination of the individual”. As we eventually tire out from the continuous struggle against the currents of life and maintaining a dual existence, we succumb to accept that our personal freedom and development lies in excelling or in many other cases, simply surviving, on our chosen pathway. Once this psychological barrier of personal resistance is torn down, it become easier to achieve the transformation into the desired role/profession, because from a subjective perspective. it coincides with our interest and remodeled concept of personal success. We have decided that chosen path is good for us and diligently set out to weed out the undesirable traits of our character and modify our behavior accordingly.
Enter the Void
The result of this progressive metamorphosis is a headspace resembling the main protagonist of Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger (L’Étranger) – a detached and impartial individual, depicted as emotionally indifferent to the events and occurrences in his own life. Given that one of the main themes of the novel is to highlight the absurdity of the human condition, this character is obviously somewhat hyperbolized, but nevertheless I find the real-life sentiment to be eerily similar.
It’s a depersonalization experience with an expressed negative connotation. The sense of self is crushed to a point, where it appears so insignificant and miniscule that it might as well not exist. The Universe seems cold, distant and impersonal, devoid of any warmth or spiritual substance. Everything looks like it’s made from crude, fragile physical matter, while people including yourself, are downgraded from subject to object. To use an analogy, imagine altering your perception from a first-person to a third-person or birds-eye point of view, becoming a passive observer to a role you feel forced to play. Contrary to the “enlightenment” in Eastern traditions, this experience is not dissolution of the ego, but serves to illuminate the consequences of attachment. If the ego is battered, beaten and bruised, while you’re stuck to it like deadweight, then it’s logical to feel flattened by reality. Cue lame depressive music.
The problems and issues described in the previous parts of these series remain essentially the same: enslavement to routine, boredom and lack of intellectual challenges, along with the reserved and sterile working environment. However, as already mentioned, the onset of apathy towards the world was gradual. The sheer magnitude of the initial shock, along with the repulsion towards my new situation & surroundings provoked a fight-or-flight reaction from my psyche.
The external pressure was the catalyst of the inner rebellion, which resulted in the creation of this blog. As I pushed back to preserve my ideals and identity. I felt the blaze of resistance and rejection raging through my body. Powerful emotions fueled the furnace inside my heart – personal dislike, general hatred towards the situation and loathing for the panic it induced inside. I clenched my teeth at the despairing thought that I could crumble beneath the internal pressure. Still, my resolve was strong – “Rage, rage against the dying of the light!” 
In hindsight, while this conflict threatened the very foundations of my beliefs, it simultaneously generated the necessary tenacity and vigor to respond to the challenge and consolidated my personal cosmology. Ultimately, I expected or at least hoped to overcome the issue and attain a new level of self-understanding after a long and exhausting struggle to preserve my spirit. The battle lines were clearly drawn in the sand and it seemed that I was at the precipice of embarking on my very own hero’s journey.
Reality turned out to be much more muted. I didn’t realize I was fighting an invisible enemy. The ideology that I felt so diametrically opposed to didn’t manifest itself in a particular person or aspect of my life, it was ubiquitously present within everything like a deadly disease. Instead of responding to a particular action or situation, I was entangled in a war of attrition with the outside world. There weren’t any evil masterminds, organizations, repressive governments or any direct or material obstacles to feed the sense of resistance. Instead, I had to adapt to the trivialization of life.
Locomotion of Stagnation
“Levius fit patientia quidquid corrigere est nefas.”
This Latin saying roughly translates to “Patience/Time alleviates that for which there is no cure.”
The firestorm began to subside. The osmosis of everyday life, the lack of a focus point for my resentment and the monotony of each day deprived my emotions of oxygen. Since I didn’t know how to overcome my problem through action, the reasonable move seemed to be to weather the storm. I hid inside my turtle shell and began waiting. But this wasn’t some set of unfortunate circumstances or a string of bad luck that would balance out by ostensibly swinging the pendulum in the other direction. Things weren’t going to change, simply because I was wallowing. Nevertheless, desperation often births expectations of a miracle-type event.
Since I like analogies so much, my strategy was like landing on Mars, building a base and barricading inside, with the hope that somehow the planet will transform into a lush garden on its own whilst you’re hiding inside. Ludicrous? Immature? Of course, but as you sink into an ocean of negative thoughts, crippled by a sense of powerlessness, it can stand as the only straw to grasp for.
The external world seemed to have collapsed into a singularity determined to crush my soul and leave me in free fall. An inept, inert, mindless set of functions and actions that strived to survive through life, slowly eroding and devouring itself into stupidity and loneliness, before death brought an end to its pathetic misery – that’s the fear. Such thoughts chew away one’s confidence bit by bit, like droplets of water continuously falling on a rock. Eventually, even the mightiest of boulders will succumb to erosion and fall away into abyss, before shattering into a thousand pieces. A negative thought-loop caused by a psychological obstacle that remains constant, except for the amount of emotional turmoil, which gradually increases like an outward spiral. That is what I call the locomotion of stagnation.
Since there was no other tangible target at this point, the accumulated antagonism reflected on me. Perhaps paradoxically, the numbing process that births apathy is not seamless. My preferred metaphor is a python snake slowly squeezing the life out of its victim. Apathy and indifference do not reflect an actual disinterest or revulsion of the external world, but instead the super-fixation with a particular thought or feeling. They entrap the consciousness by isolating it from all other thoughts or experiences until reality becomes wholly usurped. After spending weeks and months overcome by fear-induced apathy, I somehow became dependent on it. It’d become the only consistent reminder of my existence and a bridge to everything else.
An important factor to consider is that although I describe myself as numb and apathetic, the condition wasn’t constant. On the contrary, during these last few months, I’ve been swept off my feet by a river of love. I can only describe my relationship as a daydream come true. I feel free, light and wholesome. I’m able to be myself and communicate on a deep and personal level like never before. Most importantly, my heart is wrapped in gentle warmth and tenderness that make me feel connected with everything good and pure the Universe has to offer. I am happy.
There must be a contradiction somewhere, right?
Returning to the analogy of the eroding rock, the depressive stupor slowly dissolves the mind away. You are convinced that anything positive or joyful about your life is just a lucky coincidence, a fluke that can’t be sustained. Yes, you’re not completely incompetent at the moment, but it’s where you’re ultimately headed. You’re an imposter that’s somehow managed to get a few lucky breaks here and there, but the writing is on the wall and about to be exposed.
You are powerless, worthless and undeserving of everything good in your life. The only unknown variable is the timing of the collapse. Juxtaposed with its apparent inevitability, it’s as if trying to hold water in your hands. You struggle desperately, but it just slips away. You try to hide the fear from others but end up barricading yourself inside your skull with these apparitions, and push others away. People reach out to help, but you’re so isolated within the conjured illusory world of problems that you can’t be bothered. Paralyzed by fear, you can only wait for the nightmare to come true. In reality, it’s the isolation that creates real damage and distance to existing relationships and self-esteem, as opposed to thoughts, which are just…thoughts. Alchemy is real.
12 Easy Steps to Becoming a Life Coach
The initial concept for this blog was for it to be a medium for expression of the thoughts and emotions that seemed incompatible with normal everyday life. However, I’ve always intended to be a continuation and tool for development for my worldview, instead of turning it into a personal complaints platform. Or at least provide genuine food for thought. This text represents a clear deviation from this principle because it’s a wholly subjective description of my personal experience. If may seem too saturated and overdramatic, but that would make it an accurate reflection of momentary thoughts and character traits that are usually cut out, because they don’t add anything.
We have different personalities, ideals, goals, thresholds for pain and suffering and maturation rates. Scale and intensity can vary, but stress and emotional turmoil are uniformly poisonous – no matter the threshold, anyone can lose the wind in their sails. For some, the above situation may seem insignificant or pitiful, but to me it represented an insurmountable and torturous obstacle, not the least because I felt alone. Believing yourself to be condemned to lead a life of suffering in solitude is a debilitating and crushing illusion that is conceived from the accumulation of negative emotions. So, to anyone feeling like a flickering light in a omnipresent darkness – you’re not alone and the feeling of slowly disintegrating into nothingness is as impermanent as a sleeping baby on a plane.
Upon reading the first two “Confessions” I was left in shock at how accurately they predicted the slump that followed. Maybe it’s some kind of unconscious self-hypnosis, where I programmed myself to act out on my hypothetical speculation, but damn, am I really that much of a hardcore ego-maniacal narcissistic bastard? Seems a tad too extreme.
Regardless, after a prolonged depressive stupor, I finally decided to try to engineer an escape. The idea is to use this negative state of mind as an object and study and find the best remedy for it. Since I simultaneously play the roles of test-subject and overseer, it’s necessary to present the problem as clearly as possible and give a full account. While people can differ vastly from one another, I believe that the described locomotion of stagnation or “mental freeze” is a common phenomenon. Depressive thoughts and states can be staggeringly addictive to the point that a person develops a sense of perverted comfort in a pit of gloom.
My aim is to test out solutions for eradicating said pit, assume responsibility for myself and perhaps provide some useful reference for others. Since the recipe of inaction and time only worsen the symptoms, the logical antidote would be action. So I’ve set-up the following regime:
- Lay out a plan for each day;
- Daily meditation;
- Regular exercise;
- Regular period for relaxation;
- Publication schedule for this blog (every two weeks);
- Get enough sleep;
- Choose an exit date.
Discipline and authority have always been issues. I want to crack the system, any system. Not that it amounts to anything sinister mind you, just for personal comfort and maybe laziness. I seem to be most productive whilst under strong internal or external pressure. Otherwise, I lose focus and waste time doing meaningless shit, cultivating a sense of uselessness.
By planning out my days, I aim to provide the necessary structure that can push me in the right direction. While I despise the idea of repetitive routine and becoming some sort of robot, but experience has proven that coloring within the lines can help. Motivation is a fleeting phenomenon – too often I’ve fallen in the trap of “Today I’m just not feeling it”. Since thinking is the nemesis of psychological stability, focusing on something specific is key to maintaining balance and building momentum.
The cornerstones of the plan are writing for the blog and evaluating the overall effect of the plan at a chosen date. Writing is simultaneously captivating and challenging and I am eager to jump into the rabbit hole and follow it. The end game is to stick to the plan as close as possible for several months and evaluate the overall effects at a certain point. If I’ve managed to find balance and am happy – great, problem solved! If I’m still down with the blues, then a bigger change is obviously needed – time to quit my job and start fresh.
Are We There Yet?
Personal issues aside, I’m always fascinated by the nature of existence, consciousness, of Everything. I like to sink my teeth into abstract questions, because they’re interesting and I feel there’s a wholly different perspective on the world hidden beneath distractions and confusion.
So once again – what is Life?
All the aforementioned issues and emotional distress are conclusions, thoughts and feelings generated within the mind. Reality is composed by the objective conditions and events that our senses are able to perceive, mixed with their subjective interpretation given by our sense of self – the ego. To put in another way, our experience is a direct result from our chosen perspective and self-programming. Consequently, the mind is the key to the human experience and in my view there are two paths to self-alignment – we must either transcend or control it.
The whirling concepts in our heads are generated spontaneously and can vary from a genius-level idea to a regular fart joke. Controlling the mind means imposing your will over every single thought. This requires unwavering focus, motivation and discipline. You have to channel particular thoughts and feelings to create the desired headspace and have the persistency to mold this new mental state into a habit. Moreover, you must simultaneously assume the role of policeman, judge and subject.
To me, this approach restrains our natural creativity and strengthens the ego, because it emphasizes that everything can be controlled and one is infallible. If things are going badly, you’re not trying hard enough, because if you were everything would be fine. While this approach stimulates action and resilience, it can also result in stubbornness and create an impossible standard for one that can never be satisfied. When you constantly push yourself and continuously advance, you always crave more. Today this is celebrated and labeled as “staying hungry”, but it can also mean failure to confront reality and establishing an impossible standard and constantly castigating yourself. Another outward spiral.
The other approach entails dissolution of the ego and detachment, but of a different kind than the one portrayed in Meursault. Instead of latching to singular thoughts or feelings one can let them pass through and in essence transcend the suffering stemming from desires or expectations. This doesn’t render the person emotionless or indifferent, but allows for the calming of the mind, which is always pulling in a thousand directions like an infuriated ape.
The induced stillness exposes the expendability of the ego allows for the emergence of our true nature and intelligence. Detachment from personal opinions and boundaries eradicates the concept of isolation, because it forges a connection to the Life, instead of individuals or things, which are impermanent. Ultimately, this leads to enlightenment – transcendence of suffering and the realization that we are the Universe experiencing itself in its all grandeur and terror. At least that’s the theory…
In the next part I’ll try to understand what this approach entails, how it applies to everyday life and whether my plan-list-approach thing actually works.
I know how to count but couldn’t think of anything better. #lazy; ↑
Featuring the notion of “home office” created by Covid – 19; ↑
“Nightmare realm” sounds adequate; ↑
Eat, sleep, work, waste time doing nothing, repeat; ↑
The suspicion is that the lack of confidence may be the result of abnormally high expectations along the lines of “I am special, so I deserve more.” Consequently, failure to meet these expectations results in a psychological crisis; ↑
Too cheesy to leave out; ↑
No feeling like quoting yourself, eh muthafucka?; ↑
Akin to the protagonist of 1984 being deconstructed and dehumanized before getting shot; ↑
Literally, as well as metaphorically, according to a recent visit to my dentist. Try to avoid it; ↑
Per Dylan Thomas; ↑
I’ll probably discuss the effects in a future post; ↑
The irony of using this word and my stance on the “cult of productivity” is apparent and I appreciate it. ↑