Dread n’ Me.

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I dread all the time. Even when I forget what I am dreading, I feel some of it. I am dreading the future, at all times, just because it is the future. Mindfulness, living in the moment, meditation, a video game, a movie, reading, friends, television; these distract from the dread for only moments. When I lay down, sober, and try to force myself to sleep, dread is still there. When I sleep, dread manifests itself very clearly in my nightmares. When I wake up, dread is still there, loud and terrifying.

What am I dreading? What the hell is bothering me all the time? I live a great life, I love my family, I love my friends, I have money and food at all times, I have free time to do practically anything I want. I have medicine, I have therapy, I have lovers, I have showers. I get to go to school, I get to work out, I get to dress up, I get to watch tv. Some poor child in war-torn Syria,  famished Zambia, polluted India has it worse than me. Their dread stares them right in the face, gnaws at their stomach, chokes them. I have clean air, celery, civil order.

So what am I dreading? I know what it is, it is not always a mystery. I dread my future, particularly my future grades and relationships, my future income and health. So much dread, in fact, that it has brought me close to death. What is wrong with me that I am so privileged and rich, with so many paths and opportunities before me, that I must medicate myself to halt attempts for suicide? It makes me feel guilty! Where did I go wrong, what makes me this selfish, why can’t I trade my life for one of the African children’s?

I can’t trade in my life for another, it is impossible. I have to think about this differently. Who else dreads like I do? Many people, as it turns out, dread. They dread more, in fact. They are anxious about everything. They are afraid of waiting in line, of beeping cars, of paperwork, of tall buildings, of failure, of minimalism, of meaninglessness, of loneliness, of everything. I am just like them, I hate money and signatures, I hate all the news reports and the traffic, I hate the power lines and the smoke, but I don’t do much about it. It cripples me, I stay in bed, and I hide. We both take the medicines, see our doctors, and it helps so much. It is not an escape though. I have not learned to love this.

With so many of us on anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, anti-whatever pills, what can we do? The people in famished Africa don’t take them (not that they even have it available). How do they get by without killing themselves? Well, maybe it is civilization itself that has created this mess. After all, we only need to look at how Chinese suicide rates increased with its industrialization (google that, please, I am pretty sure it is true). What has civilized society brought to me to make me happy? I am horrified of bad grades, obsessed with and disgusted by money, always panicking about my future. I want to love nature, but how much can I love it when I know it is so close to death? How can I escape society and join the forest when there is so little left?

I often wonder if civilization was the problem, would I be happy to return to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle? It seems unanswerable. There is no tribe I can join that isn’t simply a spectacle for us modern folk (That tribe in Brazil, who use bullet ants as a rite of passage. Not thank you). I can go camping, live off the grid, but how many of my friends and family will I isolate by doing that? Even so, am I even capable of doing that? Will my foggy memory of boy scout wilderness knowledge keep me going? Even so, how long will my adventures in the forest last until it gets clear-cut and paved? Dread is setting in, I feel almost trapped.

I am very thankful for everything I have, especially my medicine and food, especially floss and air-conditioning. It pretty much stops there, though. What good is this system, if the price of technology is happiness? What good is this system, if it is killing the world and myself? How far will it go before the medicine loses its effectiveness and the land cannot produce enough food for our exploding numbers?

Dread dread dread, it is so hard to be optimistic, holy shit.

The only thing that brings me comfort is what I know. I know that it has to be this way, I know that the universe almost pre-ordained this. But that only goes so far, before dread comes back up, mutes my reasoning. I don’t want to be a sad-sack, but I would be foolish not to.

 

 

[EDIT] It has been a little 3 hours since I wrote this and I feel fine now.

Ethics V, Proposition XXXVIII and Coping

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Ethics V, Prop. XXXVIII.– In proportion as the mind understands more things by the second and third kind of knowledge, it is less subject to those emotions which are evil, and stands in less fear of death. 

Spinoza understands three types of knowledge that people are capable of. The first kind is the most false, caused by imagination, superstition, prejudice, and general inadequate ideas of things. Any inadequate idea is evil (IV Prop. LXIV). The second kind of knowledge is born from reason, intellect, and knowledge common to all men. The third kind, is from intuition. Intuition is defined as the “…kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things.” (II Prop. XL Note 2).

I don’t know if I have any sort of the third knowledge, but I believe the point to take from this singular proposition can be very stoic. It is not uncommon, after all, to consider Spinoza a stoic. By increasing our understanding of a particular thing, it has less ability to affect us. For example, when you are mugged by someone, it is naturally a very negative experience. As soon as you have a more adequate understanding of the mugger, their life, the factors that drove him/her to crime (such as desperation or a messy childhood), and the ‘chance’ element at play, you are able to take it less personally. It is not an attack on you, it is you walking into a series of determined causes that just happen to crest as a mugger. Sure, knowing all that won’t make you super zen about it, but at least you can move on much more easily after it occurs.

Trauma from such things is hard to avoid. There is one traumatic experience I have gone through, inappropriate to speak of the details here, but one of the best mechanisms for coping (besides just not thinking about it or letting the thought slip on by) is to try to understand the cause. Not just that, but the cause of that cause, find the chain that led up to the event. Grab that chain, pull it, observe each link, find the vast interlocking web of events that the actors towards what you are trying to understand. Causes are external, internal, from genetics, from parentage, etc. When so many things are at play, I get the sense that it was predetermined. I cannot control the event, but I have a better understanding that the event is simply one of the many waves of causes coming to a crest.

Celery

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There is no vegetable better than celery.

I find it to be the most pleasant vegetable of them all, not when its mixed in with a salad, nor when cooked up in a stew. The celery I love is pure, naked, and crunchy.

The crunch is essential! It is like a pickle, but more refined. I feel the crushing of the stem under my teeth, the water squeezing out of the vascular tissue. I love pulling on the cuticle, which is always revealed when I take the first bite. It is the string cheese of vegetables, with its long fibers, tightly packed together giving you a nice stalk of nutritious greens. The pickle has none of this, and while it is certainly more sweet, I think the celery gives a satisfaction to many more senses.

The fresher the celery, the better, of course. However, the plant has one special property that allows me to enjoy it when it ages. The increase in psoralen, a furocoumarin, causes an allergic reaction when it touches my tongue. Usually a defense mechanism, the celery sets up a toxic attack to repel any bugs or small mammals to feast on it’s body, but I am not small. The psoralen, instead poisoning me, makes me numb. The numbing sensation is just on the surface of the tongue,  it gives that weird tickle you feel when you sit on your leg too long, and it lasts for as long as you are eating the celery. What pickle can do that? Do apples do it too? No, celery excels at providing me with a sensation that no other vegetable (that I enjoy, carrots can do it too) may offer! What other foods numb the tongue? Spicy foods bring pain, but none of it numbing. Celery is truly a character.

I believe the best way to eat celery is slowly. I like to do so while reading. Passively chewing away at the stalk, slurping down stray fibers, using the pleasant crunch as white noise. It makes me feel like a big ol’ gorilla, sitting in his favorite gorilla-spot, munching down some bamboo shoot full of termites; the perfect condition for reflecting on gorilla-life. It is a calming vegetable, one that grows abundantly and beautiful, naturally sturdy like a tiny tree, and therapeutic to gaze at or eat.

Unspooling a Self and Entering Heaven

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It is often believed that the ‘Self’, the idea that some hold concerning their body to distinguish it and their experiences from the rest of the world, is something that can be maintained at all into the afterlife. This is the problem, as not only do some call Heaven “afterlife”, but some also hold that the Self is maintained in the personal form. It is problematic because life as a person understands it is not present in heaven. The Self is there, but not the personal type. I think that the Self as a person experiences it (that is, the type of Self that some hold to distinguish themselves from other things) is somewhat incorrect.

My conception of Self is that there is the personal type in addition to the true type. The true type of Self (the universal Self) is simply what ties the world to living things, thoughts, experiences, and anything that comes to form in life. The personal Self, on the other hand, is unique to living things (humans especially) because it is viewed as an entirely individualistic thing that is a result of a hierarchy of causes. The personal Self is a feeling, one with the utility of forming an identity, and is the result of the illusion of a hierarchy of causes. Personal Self is the end while the universe is the means. Not only is the personal Self the loneliest conception of a person in relation to the universe, but it also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of it.

As I see it, from what has been hinted to me by theology, as well as spoken loudly to me in Ethics, Self is best understood only in the universal sense. Certain Zen Buddhists practice specific rituals and exercises in order to gain this understanding, to deny the personal Self. More accurately, I think, is the Upanishadic conception of Self. Buddhism consistently grapples with the impermanent, so it is easily thought of the Self as one of the many things to be extinguished. The Upanishadic Self is eternal, all-encompassing, and indwelling all. This is also hinted at in Christianity.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…” (Corinthians 6:19).

“It is true the body is perishable, but within it dwells the imperishable Self. This body is subject to pleasure and pain; no one who identifies with the body can escape from pleasure and pain. But those who know they are not the body pass beyond pleasure and pain to live in abiding joy.” (The Chandogya Upanishad, Chap. VIII, 12.1).

 

The universal Self can be understood as a frayed thread, spread infinitely, and frayed again on each bit. The physical state we hold is a spool, capturing thread upon our conception, rolling up more and more as we develop (and we do not stop developing). The spool spins as we live, changing as we age, but spinning the eternal thread. It is painted with colors as we experience, made unique in the moment it is spooled, but never unattached to the rest.

Death is the separation of the spool from the Self. Most would identify closer with their personalities than their bodies, so it becomes important to know what happens to the Self. Many who understand only the personal Self believe either the popular Christian notion of heaven (which I agree with in its essence but it is so heavily bastardized by the worldly things that it is completely foreign to what it should be) or the atheist/Buddhist view of the Self of being snuffed out eternally. It creates a fear or desire of death, mixes experience and emotion with understanding, and makes a person anxious.

Heaven, to me, is merely the return to the universal Self. The unspooling of personal experience and time, eliminating the weight of the spool, becoming closer to the universe (not that we were that far).

Heaven in a more old fashioned Christian sense is that of angels sitting on the clouds, all of them pure, none of them feeling the deep anxiety and hatred of life. Free from all desires and in unity with god. In some branches of Hinduism, it is the same. To be with God, that is, to be of the substance in its purest form. This is the achievable heaven. The spool weighs us down from heaven, it is merely in a brief knot that the thread makes, and is free to flow with the wind once its spool dies.

 

Or there is a hell too, I am not sure. If there is, then that really changes the game.

Human Beings as Catastrophe

Nature has and always will exist. Environmental degradation by humans is not the destruction of nature, but rather a function of it. This is understood if we differentiate the meaning of the words “nature” and “environment” which are sometimes perceived as interchangeable. “Nature” should be understood the whole collection of processes which determine all things. “Environment” should be understood as the pre-human conditions that are caused and causes of biotic and abiotic factors, many of which still do exist and are now subject to human effects. By these understandings, we can say that what is also natural is any awareness of our effect and so are all attempts to adjust our actions. I say this to avoid implying that our destructive effects are good because of their naturalness.

The Earth contains an environment that has been drastically altered throughout history, and with each alteration, the conditions for life as we know it today approached. Earth, while still very much in a constant state of change, has maintained a general status quo that lets us exist, such as the acquirement of an atmosphere or the development of relationships between primitive microorganisms. This status quo will undeniably be altered to a new one, slowly or suddenly, and the planet we inhabit will be changed so drastically that no human will survive it (if they were to survive, I would argue that they are no longer human as we know it now). This time where the status quo is changed should be far into the future, further than any person can predict, most likely through a catastrophic environmental event.

The lifespan of the current status quo is in danger, however, as we can now conceive it changing within a number of years. We know this is due to our own action. Human nature, which manipulates and optimizes other materials and organisms, which creates a unique symbiosis and parasitism between all of the biotic and abiotic traits of Earth, and which directly alters geographical features, has caused the status quo to reach a point of change sooner than anyone who cares for life would wish. The human nature has potential to become, more than it already has, environmental catastrophe. We have wiped entire species off the planet. By our own definitions, we can make compelling arguments that we are a pestilence, invasive species in many places, parasitic to both living and non-living components of the Earth. This may be a drastic view, but to deny at least our potential to become something of a catastrophe is just idiocy or self-deception in the extreme. One only needs to refer to the atomic bomb, as it is the grandest example of the fact that we have an apocalyptic capacity.

 

 

The Pity Party

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There are times where my depression can hit hard and come up from (seemingly) nowhere. I know there are things I do not entirely grasp which cause it to come about at times, but I do not yet know what it is (diet, perhaps?). Not knowing the cause has not been the primary issue of how I treat these surprise bouts of melancholy. What has been a very backwards and, frankly, embarrassing concern is how very welcoming I am towards it. Perhaps I personify it, deep down, and treat it like an old friend who knocks on the door unannounced? Maybe I just don’t know how to handle its arrival in any other way? Or maybe I want to be swallowed up by it, to be sunk back into my grief, so that I can use it as a tool for some kind of arbitrary social entertainment?

Of the three, it is shameful that I know it is the last option. If I were to personify my sadness and treat it like a person, at least I could label that as a coping mechanism or as some type of insanity. If I didn’t know how to fight it off, at least I would have the opportunity to learn how to do so.  However, I do have other means to cope, I am not crazy, and I do have the will to fight it. I have prevented myself from getting caught by the sadness before, usually by distracting myself with work, exercising, finding time to spend with a friend, etc. These are actions that are almost always at my disposal, so it seems absurd to just let myself become depressed, doesn’t it?

When I find myself in this state, where my body has the capacity to do what I ought to be doing for the sake of my health, but my mind urges me towards the bed, I know that I can find a way out of it. So why don’t I? Simply put, I want a pity party. I want a reminder that people will acknowledge the problem that I have, will send me their love, will empathize and show concern, will appreciate me and recognize my vulnerability. It feels nice, it is a reassurance that I have people who care about me, and it is something that I have craved throughout my life.

As a child, I remember getting sick, injured, or heartbroken (in the way a child gets heartbroken, when a video game isn’t released or when they drop their candy in the mud), and receiving a sort of consolation for it all. Whether from my family, friends, or teachers, I got a certain amount of love sent my way. I hurt, they loved, and I felt better. That is how it should work, right?

The problem arises from the fact that I enjoy feeling their sympathy more than I hate feeling the pain.

I do not remember how many times I have found ways to turn a situation into a one which has me in the role of victim. I always had bad luck, got injured, came down with illness, and in turn always had a gentle embrace from a sympathizer telling me “It is okay! These tragedies are terrible, you are so strong for facing them! You are loved and we will always pick you up!”. I do not doubt that some of them knew when I had serious pain, or when I was simply playing it up.

As I matured, this act was somewhat abandoned. I found more joy in focusing on self-improvement rather than in having people tell me good things about me. I feel that I am more capable alone in dealing with some of my everyday problems and I no longer require the love from sympathy. However, my depression cannot be easily dealt with alone. I need the support for that, I find myself in very dire situations without the help. Not only that, but my new joy gained from self-improvement is halted completely by the sadness, as it throws me in bed and tears apart the progress and productivity I make. In order to escape it, I need help, and this usually comes in the form of medicine, therapy, or friends. I am thankful for all of it, but it has drawbacks. When I lose the joy I gain from my self-improvement, where my accomplishments in work or school no longer seem to matter at all, I easily return to the unhealthy love of pity. I get the urge, once again, to say “Woe is me! How the world has struck me down! What unfairness, what tragedy!” and let the pity party commence.

A surprise moment of sadness usually comes around shortly, maybe just for a day, but even for such a short duration, I still find myself letting it sink its teeth deep in me! Why do I want the pity party so bad? It contradicts with everything that I want myself to be, which is independent of a need for validation or the emotional responses of others. I do not want to have to find a joy in the sympathies of others, but I do so anyway!

Maybe I just have to grow out of it.

Michael Paul Nelson on Traditional Ecological Knowledge

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This video, around the 13 minute mark, has speaker Michael Paul Nelson talk of something very unique and important. The personification of nature as a means to get human beings to understand and care for the environment to a greater degree.

Michael Paul Nelson is a professor of environmentally philosophy and ethics at Oregon State University. 

Caffeine, Environmentalism, and Self-Discovery. Rambling.

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I can only hope I don’t sound pretentious, but then again I can’t do much about it.

I write this at 12:42 am. I am cross-legged in my pajamas, my laptop in front of me, on my bed. Outside it is awfully snowy, but the new precipitation has blanketed everything with a pristine white, so instead of midnight, it looks a little closer to evening with a fair amount of light bouncing off the snow. The extra light isn’t keeping me up so late, if it were I would shut the blinds. I made the poor decision of drinking about 4 cups of coffee in order to help me crack down on some work, but I have been instead made jittery for the past 5 hours.

I only just started drinking coffee. When I write this, it has been only 4 days into my experience with the drink, and I already find the reason why so many people require this drink. Like the Amphetamine Salts prescribed to me, I feel invigorated by coffee. It gives me a rush of energy that is very useful, as the first cup I had was after 3 days streak of general lethargy and mild depression, it perked me up within minutes. Unlike my Amphetamine Salts, it is a new thing to my body, with no acclimation built up yet. Lately, the salts have failed to give me the rush they used to. It was like a shower inside a pill, for the amount of rejuvenation I got from the pill was equal to that of a hot shower. Having this advantage be dulled down made me turn to coffee for a substitute and it has worked marvelously.

Now I am just a novice in coffee drinking, so I didn’t expect to know how much was too much right away, but tonight I picked a bad night to experiment with my caffeine capacity. Too shaky, too jittery, and now too stressed to even touch my work after the second cup. I should have dumped the whole pot down the drain, but a distaste for wastefulness got the best of me, and I finished the pot. Now, hours later, my heart is still racing, and so is my mind. A little bit of regret, a slight stomach ache, but the lost sleep is my most immediate concern.

The sensation of coffee, similar to that of the amphetamines, and even that of the shower are all things I wish that I could be without. I am unfortunate to have some negative opinion on the substances mentioned. Coffee, showers, Adderall, sugar, wine, or any other material thing that puts me in a potentially advantageous condition (wine requires a lot of care) is in conflict with the fact that I wish for a lifestyle that is divorced from sensational things.

It is not the case that I want to be a pure ascetic, going out of my way to deny myself of pleasure and other such things. It is more so that I want to have the capacity to function without the crutch of a material object. Of course, I will always need the materials of food and water, but I want to be as minimalistic as possible. To have the things that I need, and if my luxuries were to be ever taken away from me or become unsustainable, to be unaffected by the change. This works not only as a safety net in case I would have to live “below my means”, but also as general good practice for understanding myself. This is rooted in several ideas, but there are two important bases to which a lot of my thought on this is derived from. The first being environmental, the second being personal.

It is an environmental idea in that I am aware of my surroundings and the items I consume. With resources on this planet being finite, it is most important to put oneself in perspective of the whole. When I look around me, I see a number of things people use and know it cannot last. The plastic is too much, the electricity is excessive as well, and the water will soon be too little. Conservative action towards the environment is imperative if we wish to maintain our lives (but not our livelihoods, which are unsustainable). So, while I may consume just a fraction less than some others, I am doing it in practice of the principle. Few people in the modern world will deny the fact that if everyone lived a lifestyle identical to their own, with daily commutes, trips to McDonalds and Starbucks, 30-minute showers, an excessive use of air fresheners, and an abhorrent amount of water wasted at their local waterparks, the planet would certainly be squeezed dry of its potential within their lifetime. However, despite this knowledge, they ignore it, for the comforts are too great. This may be because of a misplaced understanding of their position in nature, where most people (on a somewhat unconscious level) do not consider themselves part of nature.

The personal reason is almost spiritual. For a person to understand themselves, it should be deemed necessary that they deny the material things around them (for at least a little while, though once letting go they may realize that they are just as comfortable without their gluttony at play). If someone wants to understand themselves on a deeper level than what they like, how they look, or how they feel, it becomes very beneficial for them to cast off the excessive things in their life. When abandoning the things they are attached to, someone may find that they have been knowing themselves only in relation to the objects and people around them, and are consequently pushed to self-reflect on who they actually are. For example, I only find myself describing “Samuel” to others by attributing my interests and ideas to aid me in describing “Samuel”. As soon as Samuel casts away his love of movies, spaghetti, and boats, how am I to describe him? It becomes just him and nature, for that is all there is. This is how a journey to self-discovery can begin, by forcing yourself to realize how one is defined. When I cast off coffee and Adderall, I am not bound to define myself by those objects.

This is, of course, just my deeper feelings on the subject. My environmentalism may be in some contact with my spirituality, and my romantic feelings towards self-denial are certainly not shared with everyone, but I think it is important to at least consider this type of action. I can go into more detail on materialism at ends with environmentalism and spirituality at another time, but the point I am trying to get across here is that I truly wish I didn’t feel the need to drink coffee or take Adderall. They help me so much that it is a crutch, but I have no broken legs (just sprained ankles). Perhaps in the future, my body will allow me to abandon more of the things that keep me from living a more simplistic lifestyle. In the meantime, I will have to at the very least try to use it in moderation, for the sake of saving resources and saving myself from its influence.