What do you demand of your life? What, more than anything else, do you insist that this life produce for you before you exit the stage? Fame, fortune, longevity, cool new experiences? (We’ll return to the question in a moment.)
If I am honest I am not one of life’s biggest fans. At an early age – courtesy our years in India – I witnessed a lot of suffering, of human depravity, of all-around misery. Later, life doled out some healthy doses of suffering to those closest to me before, at last, setting its sights on me. The result has been an omnipresent undercurrent of anxiety, fear, and self-loathing that comes and goes without any tide-like precision or dependability.
Yes, yes, the Buddha told us “life is suffering” and there are many other spiritual or mystical (or whatever you want to call them) traditions that remind us as much. But it’s true. Life is hard.
(For the record, I’m talking about life here, not the temporary happiness you get from a good meal, sex, personal accomplishment, trip to the Bahamas, money, etc. Or put another way, I’m not talking about the warm and fuzzy adventures of the “Eat, Pray, Love” crowd but instead the day-to-day lives that sent them on such quests in the first place. If life wasn’t so damned hard, they wouldn’t have gone looking for a way out of it and you wouldn’t have read their books.)
Yet this life, this existence, is the only ride we’ve got. Think about that for a moment – you didn’t ask for it, but you suddenly found yourself thrust into it (literally) with absolutely zero say into the context or circumstances. “Suck it up, boy-o, and have a go of it!” (I suspect a lot of suicides do so with a hearty ‘fuck you’ on their lips to whoever or whatever brought them into this mess and may or may not be waiting on the other end.)
Now here’s the thing: Virtually anyone you speak with will tell you that life is good or that all is well. Walk up to someone, shake his hand and ask, “How are things?” and he’ll smile back and exclaim, “Great!”
Don’t believe it. He’s just good at personal PR.
As an adult I’ve spent many hours with colleagues, friends, and family who kick off things with talk of how good things are going and all the while, in between the lines, if you are patient and observant enough, comes coded snippets of truth – marriages on the rocks, kids who are struggling, loathsome jobs, lives without meaning. “Did we tell you we’re going to the islands next week? Did we tell you Susie got straight A’s? Did we tell you we haven’t slept together in 6 months? Did we mention the bong we found in Susie’s room?”
When I was younger I was convinced that the rest of the world more or less had it together and that there was something terribly wrong with me.
The difference today is that I know there is something wrong with me. But then there’s something wrong with all of us. We chatter on about how good life is when, an awful lot of the time, we’re in fact quite miserable and lack sufficient confidence to confess as much. We sate ourselves with ‘beliefs’ in an afterlife or a god who will work it all out after we die and rarely question where such beliefs originate.
In short, we humans are marvelous bullshit artists.
Why do we do it to ourselves? It’s in our programming. If mom and dad were, say, good religious types or devoted to their marriage, chances are you’re pretty much doing the same thing (regardless of what was really going on inside them then or you now). If mom and dad were complete assholes, then chances are good you live in constant, zealous rejection of their lifestyles. (Call it anti-programming which is, of course, still programming.)
Which brings me back to the opening question: What do you demand of your life?
For me it is simple enough: truth. I’ve gotten to a place where I demand that this life reveal itself to me; that this existence that so early on laid claim to me to, in return, fess up and explain itself.
And I want to know not just about this life but, perhaps more important, about this “I” who is inquiring into it. Who or, more appropriately, what is it? Every chance I get I tear away at the foundation of ‘me,’ all of the familial and cultural framing and drywall and mortar that was used to create me.
To me there is no other point to the thing and I am happy to see that the woo-woo types like Jesus more or less said the same thing: know the truth and the truth shall set you free. If life is a kind of prison, then it’s our job to escape it. It’s like Mission Impossible: “Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to discover the truth of your existence which, coincidentally, will self-destruct in….”