By Cameron Chang
Sometimes I lie awake at night and wonder, “What are we doing?” I think that question gets brushed over for being abstract and existential but the reality is that it’s so palpable and so mysterious that it scares people off.
Because seriously. What the hell are we doing? Going to jobs we really don’t enjoy to earn money to pay off student loans for a school we went to get the job in the first place, then relentlessly acquiring capital and status so we can prove to the world that we’ve ‘made it.’ Then once we’ve finally saved enough, worked enough, lived enough, then we finally get to retire, buy a boat and enjoy life. Only to realize that the best of our days were spent trying to get somewhere else, acquire something else, become someone else. Seriously? There’s sort of a backwards twisted irony to it, is there not?
There is this sort of vague yet pervasive sentiment that if you’re not ambitiously pioneering your life towards achieving success (whatever that means) with as much bravado as Manifest Destiny that somehow you’re not fulfilling your role as a human being, that you’ve failed as a member of society. We forget though—it’s easy to forget—that this impetus to achieve at all costs, to forge ahead with such malign neglect and abandon of our soul’s deepest yearning, to make a name for ourselves; that this is all cultural. It was taught to us. It’s indoctrinated into us at a young age: “what do you want to be when you grow up? A doctor, a lawyer, a banker, a businessman.” By age 18 we’re expected to make up so much of our minds that we never get the the chance to explore, to discover who we really are, what we really want, what’s really worth us getting up in the morning for. Clearly there is nothing inherently wrong with pursuing and achieving success and certainly worldly success and an authentic life are not mutually exclusive. Nor should we the seek to vilify the culture of pursuit. However when we unknowingly regard it as a surrogate for our true selves, that is, we desire so much externally that we lose touch with that sacred place within us, then we unknowingly pay a heavy price. We have to somehow reclaim that innocent, still, small voice inside of us that really does not adhere to the strict, compulsive and altogether contrived agenda of the status quo—the one voice that will not lead us astray.
Most of us were conditioned to live our lives like “if-then” statements. You know what else operates like an “if-then” statement? A robot. A programmed machine. Put in the right inputs, press the right buttons and voilà. We’ve all more or less been subject to it. If I get (insert desirable object—preferably another human being, occupation or more money) then I will be (insert positive emotion—perferably associated with the elated feeling of “I’ve finally made it”). We’re so enamored with the milestones and big moments of life that we forget that it’s really the trillion small magical moments that truly make life meaningful and beautiful. We forget that it’s the smallest acts of kindess, the heart-to-heart talks, the smiles we share. It’s also the most challenging moments, our finest hours in which we are utterly broken, torn open and shattered only to be resurrected stronger, bolder and wiser. We project our mental selves into the future so much that we miss the life that is literally right before our very eyes. Then we wake up forty years later and wonder, “where did it all go?” It never went anywhere—it was always right here—we just never had our eyes open. We were literally too busy making plans. We were too busy following the dictates of a crazy society rather than the dictates our own heart. It’s sheer madness the pressure we put on ourselves; to be successful, to be somebody, to be worthy. We run around so fast chasing these things that are supposed to make us happy that we scarcely question let alone even consider where these motivations came from in the first place.
We wear so much armor on a day-to-day basis that sometimes we forget to take it off. We forget that love, happiness, creativity, joy—all the things that we human beings desperately long for, the things we read innumerable self-help books for, the things we stay up late at night swiping left and right for, the things we work insane amounts of hours for, that they’re actually our default state, they’re inherent in our true nature. We don’t need to seek these things, we just have to become aware of what we’re doing to obscure them. We get so enmeshed and entangled in the minutiae of our pursuit of happiness that we forget to actually be happy. We forget that happiness isn’t something we pursue and then subsequently achieve, happiness is a place we live from. We suffer from the same delusions about love. We set up preconditions. I will be happy if. I will love if. Just imagine how our lives would change if we knew in our heart and entire being that it was actually just the opposite. What if happiness and love were the precondition?
When will we be willing to change? We’re willing to change when we are willing to see, ready to see. To see that either consciously or unconsciously turning away from our own originality, our own light; it doesn’t just harm ourselves, it harms the planet, it harms the ones we love and don’t love too. We’re willing to change when we see that not being fully present to our lives, to every moment, it costs too much—we simply cannot afford it. We’re willing to change when enough is enough. When we’ve suffered enough, been disillusioned enough and played the game long enough to know that even if we could, it’s not worth winning, not in the end. We’re willing to change when we see that our real lives can be, must be subject to more than mere calculating logic and acquisition of things.
Eventually we have to come to confront the undeniable reality, the inexorable conclusion that until our very last breath we are, and always shall be, irrevocably human. And in our humanity we must endeavor to discover what success, fulfillment and love are for ourselves, lest we allow it to be dictated by a mad world. For only then can we give and receive the gift that we inherently are, the gift of being fully human; finally standing on our own, thinking on our own and being on our own. We strive so diligently to win the rat race—maybe we win, maybe we don’t—but then what, we’re still just rats at the end of the day, aren’t we? But we’re not rats, we’re human beings, human beings that cannot afford to forget about being human.
Image: Nick Scheerbart