I Woke Up
Without sufficient time for any particular thought or feeling to take command of my conscious experience, (perhaps my subconscious had already been infected, but then again – how could I know?) I rotated my head slightly to the side. My gaze fell upon the window in my room to check whether light had already started creeping in through the blinds. Luckily for me, I was still in that womb-like comforting darkness, which allowed a glimpse beneath the veil of death and the phenomenon of non-existence (!) before the buzz of tomorrow chased it away.
Quiet, still and above all utterly peaceful, it dispelled the notion of death as a grim and macabre event and served to remind that often it is not the experience itself that strikes terror in our hearts and souls, but rather the fear of going through it. Fear is the eternal nemesis, the primordial enemy of the mind, the usurper that enslaves it, whips it into submission and strangles ideas and dreams in their infancy. Regardless of physical strength, intelligence and mental fortitude, once it makes its nest within the inner walls of the mind, it begins to dominate our conscious behavior.
It spawns a vicious cycle of doubt, inaction and self-loathing. Indeed, I was about to discover just how harmful and debilitating fear could be in terms of my own psyche, as it was deeply infected by it. What makes fear so dangerous is that it often sits concealed and undetected in the deep recesses of the mind, usually disguised as an emotion or thought-loop, gradually spreading its poison to the point of mental paralysis. We prefer to stare into the shadow glow of fear than to face the reality that lies beyond it. Thus, it has no image or shape other than the one that we,the inquisitors give it. Fear is the formless killer.
Of course, none of these thoughts never made it to the surface of my mind, not initially at least.
Rise & Shine
As my sense of awareness grew, information about the who & where flooded my brain. I had woken up ten minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off and another look at window revealed that the first rays of the sun were now making their way through the room. That put me in a precarious situation – there was no time to go back to sleep or do much else. I had ten minutes of freedom to do whatever I want before I had to start my daily routine and go to work.
Ten minutes of freedom to express myself, to think, to consider my emotions, to dream and to cry, freedom to live out my life before other obligations swallowed me. Part of me raged at this apparent injustice. Between sitting at an office for 9 hours, commuting back and forth and insignificant errands, I barely had enough time to reflect on myself. Even if I wasn’t busy at work I still had to sit there and pretend to be, which was infuriating. “All work and no play…” echoed the typing machine through my mind.
But that’s the road to success, right? Neither the pyramids, nor Rome were built in a day. No great work of art, nor scientific achievement is the result of a single flash of brilliance, but rather of sustained effort that adds up over time to produce something significant. So even though it seemed that I was simply surviving rather than making actual progress, I saw it as natural and ultimately beneficial for myself in the long run. My previous experiences seemed to confirm this – nothing, be it a skill, ability or knowledge, ever came easy or instantaneous, constant effort and practice were required. Slow & steady seemed to win the race and the thought discouraged me from exploring my thoughts or feelings any further.
How did I use my ten minutes of freedom? I grabbed my phone and went through Facebook and I checked my email. Did I expect to find anything important? Not really, but it gave me something to do and I didn’t really know how else to spend my time. After several minutes of surfing through mental pollution posted by strangers, I realized time had blown by. “Okay, let’s go! Sit on the bed. Stand up. One foot in front of the other, take a piss. Good, that’s it, easy stuff.” – rang the guidance of my internal narrator. Fully awake by now, I began to make use of the complex biochemical machinery that had led to discoveries such as the wheel, electromagnetism and the TikTok app and assessed the situation.
I was running late and it was Wednesday. More importantly, it was Wednesday and I was running late! (spot the difference!) There were weekly meetings of all the partners at the firm I’d started working in six months earlier on Wednesdays. This meant that everyone was going to be at the office early – pristine, neat and up to scratch. It was one those big corporate firms you see portrayed in the movies, where the hours were long, the conversations exclusively formal (in six months I hadn’t head a single joke or insulting remark) and the people didn’t smile much. As these were some of the top dogs in that business sector, I guess it is only logical that productivity and efficiency reigned supreme and distractions were eliminated.
However, to me it seemed unnatural and bizarre. How could people function like this? “Function” is the exact word for it – they single-mindedly engaged in a streamlined activity for the duration of the day and didn’t seem to exist outside of it. It is somewhat reminiscent of how artists are obsessed with their work, the focus is admirable, but it is disturbing that it comes at the expense of everything else. Several times I tried to gauge my co-workers’ opinions on a variety of topics outside wok, but to my shock they were either completely disinterested in such discussions or gave plain and drab answers.
This puzzled me at first, because these were intelligent people, among the top professionals in their field, and it seemed counter-intuitive that their knowledge or interests were limited to such a narrow scope. They appeared to be machines – couldn’t or didn’t care for anything else besides working and didn’t commit their energy to anything else. Perhaps this propelled them above their peers, but I saw it as de-humanizing and terrifying.
Moreover, this wasn’t an exceptional case, but rather the rule, as I’d had similar conversations with my friends from university and people with different occupations. The same pattern seemed to repeat again and again. A life that constitutes in going home to work every day, commuting, eating, shitting, sleeping and dragging on in the same dull and dreary fashion until death finally brings some relief – this is mere existence, not living! Freedom of the mind, self-expression and personality are all stripped away and the individual person is reduced to a number of repetitive functions. Eat. Work. Sleep. Reproduce. Repeat. Die.
Is that all life has to offer us? To use our skills and time to obtain employment so that we can get paid and survive and continue to serve? Like the pig that is fed until its ready for slaughter, but instead of the butcher’s knife you get retirement “This is not right, I don’t want this!” – squealed a voice inside me when faced with the disturbing reality. “Shut up!!! Grow some balls, everyone goes through the same thing, success requires blood, sweat and sacrifice, so stop whining and start grinding!” – barked back my inner dictator.
Since there were construction works for a new subway station on the street of my buidling, the back entrance was sealed off, which meant you to come in through the portcullis that was the main entrance and draw attention. Additionally, even if you somehow managed to dodge the dementors that were gathering in the conference room right next to the entrance, a significant number of people would still see you and take a mental note of your tardiness. Worse still, yesterday I’d gone home early and hadn’t finished writing a report that could come up in the meeting.
I’d told myself I needed to do more research in order to finish it. In truth writing that report just felt boring, annoying and thoroughly pointless. Like someone giving you a pack of rice and asking you to count how many individual grains were inside. I just didn’t want to do it. I hated doing it. It wasn’t my first time slacking off either, I’d been making such small missteps from day one and over time they surely added up. My analysis of the situation was complete – I was fucked. Not really fucked, like kidnapped and tortured in some third-world country, but more like stepping on dog shit on the street and then staying inside a room without taking off your shoes.
My narrator exploded as I rushed in the shower.
“If I catch the first available train I’ll only be late by a couple of minutes max. What should I wear? The navy blue suit, light blue shirt and a bordeaux tie? Goddamn it, I fucking hate ties! Can’t do anything about it though, just ‘gotta suck it up and push through… Shit, I hope I don’t lose this fucking job! I just moved into this apartment and I wanna save up for a new car. I haven’t had a date in months, but what kind of woman would go for a guy with no place of his own and no car anyway?! Are we ‘gonna eat tuna cans under a bridge and sing songs all day? Fuck no! I have to get my shit together, I have to impress my boss!
I have to show him how interested and capable I am, no matter the cost! I can’t lose this job, what if I run into someone from uni on the street? Am I going to tell them that I’m unemployed? That I’d failed?!? No, then everyone from uni will find out… What if I run into Daniela (I’ve always had feelings for her)? She recently posted some pictures on IG from a skiing trip with her boyfriend and a group of friends, all smiles and having fun. She can do it, everyone else can certainly do it, why am I the only one fucking this up, why can’t I just be normal and have a normal fucking life???”
I was shaving, brushing my teeth and showering almost simultaneously. Hot water was pouring over my shoulders and although I usually find it very pleasant, this time it only heightened my growing sense of anxiety. I turned off the shower and threw a quick glance at the mirror to make sure my face was shaved correctly.
Suddenly, it hit me! What was I doing? A flash of memories burst into my head. Hazy scenes from early childhood – first day of school, making friends, my first kiss, high school, breaking my leg, university, going abroad for a year and finally staring in the mirror presently. Sandwiched in-between was a plethora of emotions and feelings – joy, insecurity, fear, love, indifference and throughout all these moments some vague lingering sense of hope for what the future holds. That somehow I’m going to make things right eventually. As such my gaze was always fixed towards the future, constantly in pursuit of some ever-changing goal that was just outside my reach, but promised to bring the sense of peace and satisfaction I desperately needed.
When I was a kid I wanted to go to high-school, then graduate from university, then get a job, start a family and somehow make something of myself. It never occurred to me to stop and ask myself whether I was happy with who I actually was and what I was doing. Why? Because that prevented me from reaching my personal nirvana, which lied in some undefined moment ahead in time. Postponed experience. Life was an escape room – if you could find the right clues and solve the puzzles that came along you could eventually escape the misery of the present and be happy in the future.
And here I was, standing in front of the mirror with an archipelago of shaving cream on my face and late for work. I had arrived. All my previous experiences, struggles, hopes and dreams had been grinded down and mixed to produce this exact moment in time. I’d played the game and gotten exactly what I wanted. Or what I thought I’d wanted.
My life now consisted of activities I disliked or outright hated and the irony was I’d spent so much time and effort to make it that way. For what purpose? Because I used the vague idea of an imaginary happiness-filled future to paper over all the cracks & problems that were really troubling me and plug the holes within my inner self. I never considered how this vision would relate to everyday life or whether it corresponded with my own values, I just knew it meant I would be happy. It was blind faith.
For a brief moment time stopped and I was given a birds-eye view of my life. I could see past, present and future lined up before me. The past was had brought me to this point and was set in stone. I couldn’t change it. The future lied ahead, ambiguous and uncertain as always, potentially grandiose and decorated with deceitful promises of escape. In reality it was just as inaccessible. All that I really had was the present, for it contained all I could experience. And in the present I was miserable. “I can’t go on like this. I needed to find a way out!” – hurled my thoughts. The narrator was silent.
I called in sick at the office…
Many philosophers and scholars have discussed the nature of the things I discuss within this blog. I use those I’ve encountered as a source for ideas and inspiration, but nevertheless aim to adapt their philosophies into my own personal understanding, rather than simply repeat them. Alan Watts is one of the figures that has influenced me greatly and to illustrate the unnerving figure of the internal narrator (sometimes referenced as “The Observer” I’ve added a clip where the issue is discussed in greater detail. ↑
Congratulations for finding your way to the end of my fictional wandering! It probably took you less than 10 minutes to go through everything, but it cost me years! I continue the exploration into this internal self-imposed psychological warfare in Part II, where I approach the problem from a more abstract perspective.