stop making emotions your enemy

When someone moves on the floor above me, it sounds strangely like water. Sloshing. Although I seriously doubt any individuals are shoving large bins of water around. However, I can still imagine that scenario if I desire because I can choose to see things in a different light.

We can’t change our beliefs. We don’t choose what we believe or what we feel. Our experiences give us information and we translate that information in a way we want to. Our emotions take us over whether we realize it or no, always lurking and influencing our decisions, no matter how rational we desire to be. Even our desire to be rational is still fueled by emotion, like pride or a sense of honor.

Yet the word “lurking”, isn’t fitting. Emotions aren’t evil. Emotions aren’t some sort of enemy we have to conquer and keep down.

Nor is rationality evil, or leading us to an unhappy life. People who advocate for getting rid of all emotions or all rationality are both irrational and likely spurred by emotion.

We need moments in our lives where we do the irrational thing. We need those moments where we act silly because the alternative is to be miserable. There comes a line between carrying out one’s responsibilities and also not dying a dull bore.

When we villainize our emotions, we begin to make ourselves into the enemy. We begin to shame ourselves when we don’t feel the ‘right’ thing. It feels good when someone we don’t like embarrasses themselves. It feels good to hate annoying people. It feels good to be vicious from time to time. Feeling that inclination doesn’t mean you are evil, it means you’re human. To some, that might be one and the same.

But that’s not the point. The point is that we shouldn’t shame ourselves for something we cannot control, but rather focus on what we can control. Why are you feeling good when your peer fails? Ask yourself about the feeling. Track down where it’s coming from.

Many times when we feel hatred, we feel it because we are afraid. Hatred is an outlet for our insecurities. It feels good to hate because it gives us a sense of power, and that power stabilizes us for a time. It doesn’t solve the core problem, however. It doesn’t solve the core insecurity and ignoring it will only make the problem grow worse.

Our emotions are not foreign entities, they are us, and we should embrace them as we gently guide them. We can choose to see things in a different light. We can’t change our immediate perceptions, but we can change how we interpret what they mean.

the shift

I’ve been moving slowly but surely, and my mind is slugging down to the absolute minimum rate necessary for survival. Before this semester started, I was aiming for great things, extra miles, the beyond-part of above and beyond. At this point, I’m celebrating if I can get by.

And that’s a shift. A significant one.

I can’t pretend like I’m put together, I don’t have the energy anymore. But the more time goes on, the more I’m disillusioned with the whole idea of “put together” in the first place. If my body is a machine, it’s still running. I’m still breathing, eating, walking around. Consider language! The complexity of it, how even amazing animals like dolphins are significantly limited in their communication. And yet we have that, most of us without effort. Most of us are ‘put together’ in most ways already.

For the rest of our existence, life is variable.

You can try to make plans, but they are fundamental guesses you throw at an unknown that might bend in unexpected ways. We put in the effort anyway, and we should, but why is it a mark against us when the universe doesn’t conform to our tiny, limited view?

The race of life isn’t so much a race as a bucket full of marbles being dumped with a lattice of shoots catching them on their way down.

Do the best you can, but comfort yourself with that same thought: you are doing the best you can. And if you aren’t, re-evaluate yourself. There might be something else going on, and that’s to be expected.

Life is hard, but we keep going anyways, embracing the absurdity and reveling in existence for its own sake.

you’ll never get today back but also, why would you want to?

You’ll never get today back. That is a terrifying thought, at least for most of us. The fact is, most of us don’t live absolutely fantastic lives. Most of our days are mundane. Plenty of people go to work as a means of making money, not because it’s their passion or dream. Furthermore, working a job to make money isn’t something to be ashamed of.

For most of history, what we did was determined by what our parents did. Farmers farmed to survive. Art was seen as a profession of skill, not necessarily vision or creativity. Unless you want to mark off the majority of the time before now as utterly miserable, we have to realize that jobs don’t have to be our whole reason for existing.

What matters far more is our social relationships. We have a deep desire to be loved, to be in connection with other human beings. People can get drawn into some desperately dark situations because they are so hungry for the bond with another human. It’s how gangs and cults come about– the violence becomes justified in the members’ mind because they feel a relationship with those around them. Religion, ideology, community, all of these massively important concepts of influence are centered around that desire.

But sometimes what makes our days mundane isn’t the job, but the loneliness. Not everyone has the connections they long for.

It’s hard to keep going when there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for going. Add that onto the ghastly features of temporality and our own mortality, and life suddenly doesn’t seem so hopeful. What do we have in our lives that is of worth? Is life fleeting so fast that we can’t fully grasp it until it’s too late?

In the end, no. If we are lonely, we try to find friends. If we are bored, we try to find excitement. If we have the fear of being numb to life, of being unable to grasp time in its entirety, that is a hidden moment of empowerment. If you didn’t fear it, you wouldn’t know how to fight to change it. Trying to ignore our fear doesn’t make us brave, it makes us try and avoid the situation altogether. Instead, what is better for us is to try and face our reality. Whatever we do, we do it knowing that we are alive. This is the moment, you are alive whether you decide to ignore your existential crisis or deal with it. Time will pass, either slowly or fast, but it will pass.

This passing, this ending is what gives us meaning. Some people die happy, some people die miserable, but we are the ones who decide how we live our lives. We can be in the most despondent circumstances, but our struggles do not command us to be one way or another; they may pressure us significantly, and will always shape us, but there are always a few things we can control, and those are ours. “Right now” is the most magical thing to ever be, and the bewitching nature of it is something we get to enjoy every moment we exist. Yes, this day will never come back, but why should you want it? It would be boring to live it over and over, and the only way to figure out how things turn out is to live the next day.

doing good things: it’s a bore

The question of good and evil is a big one. Most people would like to think of themselves as “okay”. Maybe not terrifically good, but at least not terrifically bad. Sure, people make mistakes and are cruel from time to time, but we each like to believe that our good mostly outweighs the bad. Religions often emphasize and try to encourage people to be moral, with greater or lesser success. Even people that consider themselves horrible people still tend to count some of their actions as beneficial to the whole good, and even people that consider themselves ultimately saints know in their hearts that they’re imperfect.

Adding onto this difficulty, there are questions of circumstance. If someone is struggling to survive, surely it isn’t necessary for them to help others since they are exerting so much effort in other worthwhile things? But also, we tend to overestimate how busy we are to make ourselves feel less guilty for not doing more. Helping the poor. Giving comfort to those in need. Being kind and compassionate when there is no external motivating factor like the desire to be seen as socially good.

Some argue that all humans are good, just get pushed down the wrong path by a terrible situation. Some others argue all humans are evil, and we have to fight our instincts to accomplish something good. Still, others feel that a binary of right and wrong is too simple and we should act with the understanding that circumstances are almost always morally ambiguous.

We might not know, and there will almost certainly be disagreement about the particulars, yet regardless we must realize that there is a drive, either internally or externally to do good things from somewhere. If there wasn’t, how would our species have survived this long? What about all of the cooperative relationships and groups that operate every day? Humans can be altruistic, at least to a limited degree. The problem with the argument is that there are so many options and opinions flying around that it becomes easy to justify doing nothing, even when we can do far more. It’s easy to feel like Injustice is so widespread that an individual can do nothing to help. But this isn’t the case. Even if an action is nominal, a good act can still impact someone else’s life for the better. There’s the hope that individuals will all do little things on their own and together that kindness and compassion will make the difference on the whole. However, it’s difficult to feel fulfilled as a tiny dot on a giant balance. Furthermore, even the most basic actions can have many results; who decides the overall absolute value of “goodness”?

Discussions of morality make people uncomfortable because it is almost always associated with shame. We feel like we haven’t done enough. Frankly, we probably haven’t, and if we are honest with ourselves, we know that our behaviors likely won’t shift in the future either.

So what’s to be done? In our hearts, we know what we have to do, and it’s boring.

The way for most humans to realistically enact change isn’t exciting. Not everyone can or should join the Peace Corps or start a charitable nonprofit. What impacts people is donating to charities who have actual pragmatic goals and ways to achieve them. What impacts people is joining a local club that does blood drives. Working at a soup kitchen. Being around people who are in need is uncomfortable, and we don’t want to deal with the realization that they are human as us. You don’t have to give up everything in your life, you just have to give consistently and practically. It’s dull. It won’t make you feel like a saint, it will more likely make you annoyed because you have yet another commitment to tack on to a large pile. It matters anyway. We can always do something good for others, our situation just dictates what kind of good we are capable of giving. We should do what we can, and what that means will probably change over time. Doing what we can where we can is a much better option, however, than being paralyzed with shame that helps no one.

spacetime is bread and sensation can be surprisingly scary

Sensation is an interesting experience, partly because it’s one of our only experiences. If we want to, we can become aware of our entire body. We can become aware of the noises occurring around us. Our skin, our eyes, it can feel the temperature of the air around us, in different waves. Spacetime is such an incredible concept because the more we think about temporality and spatial reality as a giant loaf that encompasses our existence, the more we think of ourselves as a point in that amorphous blob.

Awareness of sensation is so revolutionary for the mind to experience because it forces us to flip our orientation: we are not the center of the universe. We are a part in a much greater whole. People can differ on what sort of whole it is, or the medium in which it exists, but besides the solipsists, most people agree that we are not the only thing that exists. As terrifying as this may be, it can also be comforting.

If you mess up, life will go on. If you’re awkward and fumble in a social situation, the people you fumble in front of will probably forget about it within the next five minutes. No one obsesses at night about someone else’s social faux pas, they obsess about their own. For most individuals, other people will generally respect you and not wish ill upon you. If someone is unusually cruel and prejudiced based upon your basic attributes (things that you can’t change or don’t have an influence on the kind of person you are, morally), their judgment is irrational.

Generally, people don’t care. It’s the default. However, the actions you take have an influence on others, and you can make people care. You are here right now. Your decisions are your own. We make mistakes and then we try to fix them and avoid doing the same in the future. You are here right now, and you, this point in spacetime, are pretty amazing.