Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Being Human

I don't want to hide in a cave. Some philosophers and religions argue for detaching from earthly things in order to find true happiness. Taken to an extreme, some cut themselves off from life with other people to live a life of seclusion and prayer or meditation. This doesn't seem like the right answer to me. Not all who speak of detachment mean it in this way though. The idea is that you can detach while still observing and being present in what is happening. You just don't let it define you. So, you don't say I am angry. You say, I am feeling angry. Semantics and trickery maybe, but since we aren't purely rational, we have to play the game. When I have my head spinning with a worry, I have found the technique of pretending I am an Avatar in a game quite useful. It doesn't mean the game isn't important, but at least I can pause it and go make a cup of tea. You can also stop playing a particular game should you choose.

The two places I give myself a lot of leeway with diving into emotions rather than detaching from them are creative pursuits like art and barbaric pursuits like sport. Some of my lowest moments have come from sport. I still have heart palpitations when two nines are next to each other ('99), and struggle to forgive Francois Steyn for not just kicking the ball out ('07). I feel like allowing myself to go to those depths of disappointment is the price for the elation of victory. Art feels similar. There is something beautiful even about sadness. I argue against the value of anger, but perhaps that is when we know we are alive. In Matt Haig's beautiful book, 'The Humans', the protagonist says
'Don't worry about being angry. Worry when being angry becomes impossible. Because then you have been consumed.'

I don't see the world as some dark horrible place, a hell we have to get through. I don't agree that the first step to happiness is accepting that life is hard. There is so much to be enjoyed and celebrated. Even the tough bits that create the flavour. The trick is to see yourself as the artist, diving into the tougher bits and experiencing them. Feeling them. But then being able to pull yourself back. Some of the most beautiful passages of this book are when characters are struggling. I got real pleasure from reading how they experienced the emotions. If you can see yourself as the character, but also as the reader, and you can see the beauty in the difficulty, perhaps it is easier to get through.

The book was written by Haig in part as advice to himself in 2000 when he was going through a very difficult phase. There are some wonderful lines. 
'Dark matter is needed to hold galaxies together. Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say: don't kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.'
I won't spoil it by quoting too many lines. The book does seem appropriate for a blog where I am arguing that we define ourselves too tightly. I maintain that many of the things that we could do to improve the quality of our lives and our perspective are just a small bump away. With just a little effort, we can vastly improve the quality of our lives. Happiness isn't a destination, it is something you practise. It is the process of learning how to practise.
'Do not fall for categories. Everyone is everything. Every ingredient inside a star is inside you, and every personality that ever existed competes in the theatre of your mind for the main role.'
Choose your role. Be Human.

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