“Now, too, on melancholy’s idle dreams
Musing, the lone spot with my soul agrees”
(“Sweet Was the Walk” Wordsworth).
To understand humans, just watch them. See what they do. Fascinating creatures. Watch their facial expressions and actions. Listen to their words and intonations.
Watch a man drive aggressively. He tailgates. He cuts in and out. He races. He honks. He stops only when he must. Can you tell by his driving what he’s thinking? Probably.
Hurry puts people in bad humour. Look at the face of an aggressive driver—narrowed eyes, angled eyebrows, gritted teeth—unless he’s a constipated criminal or Paul Anka singing, “Having my baby”, this is not the face of peace. This is the demon face of frustration and anger—not to mention arrogance and thrill-seeking behaviour.
Poor selfish lout, so stressed out. One might feel pity if he weren’t scary. Here is machine man surrounded by machine people who have become as gods to themselves. He might prefer to relax and enjoy a nice ride, but he’s too busy listening to reptilian brain chatter.
We’ve all been there. The good old basal ganglia (aka reptilian or primal brain). It’s the part controlling automatic self-preserving behavior and the four Fs: Feeding, Fighting, Fleeing, and…. Reproduction (source). It’s the part that defends self, family and personal property and performs socially acceptable actions like handshakes and head nods.
The doer is revealed by the deed but it could be argued that everyone does the best they can—even if it is terrible (see related post: “World Views, Weird Edges & Higher States of Consciousness”). If people could do better, they would, wouldn’t they? If we don’t pay attention, it is only in yesterday that we realize what happened.
As an individual, you live a life that no one else will live. Knowing yourself will only come from an intensely personal and passionate pursuit of what gives meaning to your life. Consider what brings you joy and focus on that.
Beyond the emptiness of perpetual pleasure-seeking and bad tidings of your disappearance in the wake of time and a society that’ll suck you dry…… there is another way.
The trick is to become aware of your true self subjectively. This is the psychology of religion. To feel yourself as your true self is to have a profound feeling of yourself not in an egotistical sense—not in sadness, anger, fear, envy, jealousy, despair or some negative feeling—but by a silent awareness, a perception that, this is me. I am here. Look at this world. Isn’t it amazing? These people are like me.
If good old Aristotle with wine on breath, asked you point blank—BAM: “How should we live?” Dear reader: What is your answer?
Is the focus on yourself or on society and its rules? As your mind races for words to answer Aristotle (how’d he get in here anyway?), you think about how life feels accidental. In flashes of memory you see your past and like a Talking Head ask, “Where does that highway go to? And you may ask yourself: Am I right?…Am I wrong? And you may say to yourself: My God!…What have I done?!” (“Once in a Lifetime”).
Life stretches ahead as the past falls away (see: “Enjoy A Perfect World”). You enjoy yourself when you can and work hard as you must. You enjoy the cake you get and sing with defiance, “I will survive. Yeah, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll be alive” (“I Will Survive”).
“How should we live?” Good question. Decisions made thoughtfully when young feel arbitrary when old. We have pleasures and aversions and find love where we can. When young we sing, “I hope I die before I get old” (“My Generation“) and when old, we sing a different tune.
Things happen. Like Sid Vicious, Sinatra and Elvis, we too sing, “Regrets, I’ve had a few; but then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do. And saw it through without exemption” (“My Way”). We have reasons for what we’ve done but we might wonder at times, “Is it me, or is life meaningless? Where’s the fairness in this?”
One person has a fantastic life and another is subjected to misery. Why is that? If God is randomness, then you are a believer.
Maybe philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) was onto something when he said that existence is absurd.
“Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world” (
How should we live? Why should? Who says should? Is this about ethical living? In the dictionary should is a verb indicating “obligation, duty or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.”
We know we should give more weight to promoting social welfare than to achieving personal gain but what’s more important, you or society? Here we come to the crux of the matter. A body with a brain is a person, but is there more to a self?
The trick is to enjoy yourself without causing harm in this perfect life that is all your own. Think of a person trying to decide whether to play video games, watch TV, go to work or go for a walk. The different “yous”—aspects of your personality—are conflicting, but the conflict itself is part of what makes you you.
Old wise Epicurus (341-270 BC) said in a letter, “It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably without living pleasantly.” Dance to your song and let the wheels of time turn as they will anyway.