Documenting 2015 in Mental Pictures
I’ve been writing for 2 hours and that’s just after lunch. Before, I wrote 3 hours. Tonight, I’ll write 2 more. In total silence, totally alone, for no other reason than some feeling that if I stop the tension will likely kill me because I feel like a pregnant woman a week overdue. I remember in college I used to be so concerned with my own pleasure, all the time, that I couldn’t even do good work without bribing myself. I’d spend an hour round-trip driving to some hipster coffee shop, getting set up, coffee, wifi codes, etc., only to do about 30–60 minutes of distracted work. If I gutted it out past 60 minutes without a break, I felt like a mental Olympian. When you don’t find pleasure in the work, you do everything you can to make it more palatable, applying the band-aid of distraction instead of fixing the underlying problem and finding meaning and fascination in the work itself.
Everything worth having is hard to get, but I keep forgetting that and it makes me depressed. Because when I forget, I revert to my default belief, the same one we all have—that If it makes me happy, it’s good: if it makes me uncomfortable (like writing and hard reading) it’s bad—and yet the greatest joys come after hard work. Like the piano. I love to play Bach and Beethoven, but for the first four years, all I could do was submit myself to the systematic frustration of practice. Nothing makes you as happy as the discipline of hard work, but we constantly forget that. What comes easy to me isn’t really what satisfies me. That makes the work about me, and that destroyes the meaning in it. But when I submit myself under the work, I find meaning because only then am I serving a Master who has a mission for my work bigger than my personal comfort, who benefits from my hard work, and whose benefits are to me more Good than I can find on my own.
If I sit down with a book without a pang of humiliation, I won’t really be reading. Because it’s only then that I need to be helped. To be a good reader you have to need help so badly you’re willing to give your brainwaves to someone else’s direction for 6 hours and endure the discomfort of being alone and quiet with their consciousness, which is itself enough to humble any man. Reading requires a humble soul, and since we must fight for humility, reading requires a lot of front-loaded work. Sometimes I’ll read a book twice just because the first time through I’m still figuring out how to listen. I never read any better than when I am wounded. I am at my best as a reader when I am humbled, when I feel sick in the pit of my stomach and hang my head.
Smugness stifles curiosity. The key to good education—which is really rare to find—is humility from true honesty. Seeing yourself as having nothing to prove. “There is no limit to what a man can achieve if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.” I have to discipline myself to regularly convince myself that I don’t know what’s going on, even if everything in me screams it’s old hat. Boring stuff doesn’t exist. Boring people do. They are the ones who feed off social stimuli, who feel compelled to tell everyone how many books they’ve read. That person can read a book a day–or ten a day!–and still be an idiot because he lacks the element required to be deeply human: curiosity.
Art, especially an interactive art that requires something of you, the observer, changes your life. More than wasting time, it’s the queen of investing it. It teaches you and moves you and shows you yourself. Your emotions are moved by story (or implied story) which draws you out of yourself and gives you the opportunity to do a little soul work by observing yourself in its brilliant light. Art clarifies the human experience, but since it is interactive, and since all growth requires work, it’s hard–and it should be hard, otherwise it isn’t worth much. All great art is hard work, which makes it great, but it’s so heavy you can only handle a little at a time.
The written word is the most powerful thing in existence. We can do impossible things with words. In our imaginations we can see things you can’t do with a camera and Hollywood cinematography. In our minds we can exist—heart and mind—in an entirely different world, with our eyes we can only see a depiction of a different world. But since we live in a shallow culture of vanity and the “social self,” depiction is reality. The mind has the power to transcend Life, but we don’t care–because for us, seeing is believing.
We say things are valuable if, and only if, they affect our bottom line—money or fun. If it makes me rich; it’s good; if it’s fun; it’s good. Those are given. Things that are poor and boring have to prove themselves innocent because we’ve already proven them guilty by nature of our selfish pragmatism. But money and fun aren’t the ultimate values, they are just the most visible to our world-system as Americans. There is a value-system in another realm that ascribes value to our work that far supersedes what our eyes can see, and it’s this system that ascribes meaning and value to, say, teaching mentally handicapped children for $20k/year. And in the ultimate irony, some selfish Americans get fed up with the world’s value-system and take these jobs, and thus buy into another value-system which triggers deeper, more satisfying aspects of the human spirit like chivalry and honor and generosity, which taps them into the joy of the divine as they act as He acts.
We live reactionary lives. Our schedules are run by other people, and since our lives consist in the way we spend our time, we all are living in a huge cycle of reactions. There are only a couple humans out there acting on sheer conviction, apart from the cycle. Only a few who sit down and find where the world needs them and chart their course and go do it. Only a few who identify which person they really want to become and go become them. We simply do what everyone else does, be who everyone wants us to be, and trust it’s the right thing to do. We go to school, build houses, invest conservatively, dress like our friends, all without ever knowing Why.
We judge ourselves by comparisons. We’re only busy or buff or bad compared to someone else (preferably someone less busy or buff or bad). We define things by their relationships to other things rather than with the way they fit into larger ideological frameworks we want to live by.
Intellectualism is one thing—a thing like tea cups and violins—but intelligence is mandatory. What does “being smart” even mean? We don’t know what we don’t know, so we think anyone smarter than us must obviously be carrying around extraneous knowledge because we are getting along just fine, thank you. And since we are so selfish, we think they are just as selfish and the only thing strong enough to motivate them to become that smart is their own vain pride. But intelligence is a brick mason who not only lays straight bricks but knows Why. It’s one thing to live life, and it’s a complete other thing to know Why and let that knowledge drive you to do things an ignorant person couldn’t even conceive of doing. Knowledge is power.
That bird is a Red Cardinal, but then again it isn’t. It isn’t just any old Red Cardinal, it’s a little miracle that is itself alive, seeing and “thinking,” that happens to also be red and of the same species as other red birds. We humans are bent to be bored with the world as soon as possible, and categories is how we do that. We know the category of bird, and that makes us immune to the bird itself. We’ve lost our Wonder. It’s pretty safe to say that Intelligence is seeing the one in the many, while ignorance is seeing the many in the one.
Every person is born twice, the first into life, where you develop into a child, and the second into maturity, where you develop into a full human. That second birth is what we’ve forgotten how to do. The main way into maturity is to increase your aliveness. And that is a subject no school can teach. In the movie Avatar, a lady native tries to teach a marine this Wonder. His boss tells him to “Try to see the forrest through her eyes.” It’s about seeing. Becoming more alive isn’t about eating Wheaties or lifting weights or climbing mountains or conquering the world. It’s not about doing anything different with your little human body. It’s about becoming more and more aware of what He is doing in the infinite cosmos. You can train your body to climb a cliff, or you can train your mind to follow the path of God and transcend the blue planet itself.
Make time here and there to read (and do) stuff that doesn’t matter. The more obscure the better because it forces you even further outside yourself, outside your comfort zone and your bubble of judging values, which is the first step toward true humility. You, ultimately, don’t really know this isn’t “worth your time.” Why read random junk? Because you always gain something in reading, even if it’s just another personality in your head to help with objectivity. Why do random stuff? To prove to yourself you don’t know everything, and you at least know that.