I often imagine my life as something illusory, not because it is in itself unreal, but because the life which surrounds me, appears at times, to not be alive at all. It moves of course and changes and adapts, in just the same way you might think a living thing should, but how much of it’s really living after all, living in its truest sense at least, not just simply here as a reactant caught within some grand experiment? With every passing year, I tend to remove myself more often from my own experience to watch from a distance, those around me, those other agents in this larger thing going on that we call, humanity, to observe their own experiences and interactions with it and how these differ from my own.
In doing so, there are times when I can’t help but wonder how much, or perhaps more fittingly, how little of human life’s lived consciously, because almost inanimate, like fallen leaves caught in the current of some raging river, it seems to react only to the happenstance of its force and its ebbs and its flows, and as each of these continue downstream, racing toward some unknown end, rarely is their direction questioned, ostensibly less so, is the source. And if it is, these lives, they tend to say, well, I’m here because the current took me here, and then they throw their arms in the air and ask almost rhetorically, where else could I be, as though they never had legs to kick or a brain to think.
There’s conceivably no other time in any human life when one is more an outsider to this experience than as a child. I remember this age in my own life fairly vividly. It was interesting watching all those big people doing big things, those fully grown lives moving about in a world far larger than my little mind could comprehend, and I’d think, they’re free from all of these confinements I feel as a child, they have so few rules, they know so much, they have so few limitations, and yet, here we are in a bank or a store or in the car yet again, there’s a line, we’re queuing for something, we’re always queuing. So much was outside of my control then, but I would create, venture, play, discover, if even in my mind, because I knew that moving around in this way that I was being forced to move in, something like cattle being herded for slaughter, there was very little value in it, and if I was going to be forced to do these things that I didn’t wish to do, I would have to create value or venture off from the herd. I think most kids think like that, but it’s soon forgotten.
Now that I’m an adult, I better understand some of these things, there’s a necessity for such things, but I never forget that we have invited these things into our lives. Why did we do so? Well, for more control of course, not for the kind of control that offers personal freedom, but because we as people, individuals, can’t be trusted with our personal freedom, so it’s control of the collective that matters. We think we’re free, but we’re not, not unless we choose to be at least.
The problem is that we wait our entire lives for that moment of freedom. We say things like, well, when I can drive, I’ll have so much freedom, I’ll do whatever I like then, but we soon learn, to drive requires gasoline and gasoline requires money, so what do we do, well, we get a job, but it’s a hard job and it doesn’t pay well, so we say, I’ll go to college then, or university, and I’ll work hard for just a few short years, only four more years and I’ll have that long awaited freedom. So, we do that, we put in those years of hard work, we succeed where we’re told to succeed, and then that brilliant day comes, graduation day, we’re finally there, but we’re not, because soon afterwards in pursuing some course of career, we quickly discover, and this is even if we can find a job, well, it’s a hard job and it doesn’t pay well, something like that which was available to us in our youth. This time however, we not only have to pay for gasoline, that is if we can afford a car, but we also need some place to live, and we need food to eat, and we need to pay down all that school debt we acquired, because as it turns out, those four short years, ended up being quite long and quite expensive. So what do we do, well, we go back to school to become more specialized, because we need more money than we thought, and also, because the kind of work available to us is just as awful as that which was available in our youth.
However, we are told, those who are specialized, they’re the ones who really make the money, and well, it’s the money that will solve all of these problems and will ultimately provide you with that freedom. So we do just that, we are close though, we can taste it, just a few more years now. We trudge along like this, and then suddenly we are in our mid twenties, but that’s okay, because now we are specialists, life can finally begin. And it does, but by now, whose life are you living?
You got that job, that specialized job, you are making more money and the work is slightly less awful and it starts to feel like its finally coming together, like the freedom is just a few short steps away, though it doesn’t quite feel like freedom and you can’t quite figure out why. Time, things, life, it all moves more quickly now. You have less of it to think about or to pursue that freedom you had so desperately wanted all the way back in your childhood, but when you do, you think, well what’s still missing?
So you revisit the playbook of the collective instead of now utilizing the shred of freedom you have fought so hard to obtain, and you say, well, I need a partner of course, this journey is meant to be shared, and yet, you are busy and your time is valuable, so you search within your sphere of convenience, and you’ll probably find someone quite easily after a few missteps with others, because, well, you are in that sphere of convenience, and your new found partner, they have lived the exact same life you have, and now they too are rushing to find a partner of convenience. Now that you have found each other, you decide you should get married, that’s what people are supposed to do right? So you do this, and you probably have a child or two, and now you discover, inviting all of these things into your life has only caused the loss of what little freedom you still had.
Suddenly, you are in your forties and you wake up one morning and realize you still don’t have that freedom, and you are angry, and you search for answers, and you say, perhaps I took a misstep in choosing the career that I chose, maybe I will switch careers you say. But upon giving this further thought, you realize, you are far too specialized now to be doing anything else but exactly that of which you are doing, so that likely isn’t an option. Besides, you have so many financial responsibilities by this point, you couldn’t possibly risk cutting off the supply of money. After all, it is the money that provided any ounce of freedom in the first place. So you keep thinking, and you think, well perhaps it is this partner, we always seem to be doing things that they wish to do, and they came into my life right around the time I was beginning to taste freedom, so it must be that, there were so many things I wanted to do over the years, and couldn’t when I finally could, because I was committed to my partner and this family, and so now you say, I think I want a divorce.
And this will likely be easier than you think, because opposite you, your partner who has been living the same life is thinking the exact same thing you are, they want a divorce. And both of you are under the disillusionment that you might actually be able to do the things you want to do with all that new freedom you will now have as a result, because the wealth at this stage of life, provides a false blanket of security that makes it feel as though it is a safe enough thing to do, but this is also what makes it so destructive. You will both fight terribly, almost animalistic in nature, over the most minute and stupid and silly little things, because you are so far outside of your own control at this point that you will fight for even the smallest shreds of it.
A few years later, you find yourself full of bitterness, unable to do those things you so wished to do with all that freedom, because now you have doubled your financial commitments and you must work twice as hard to upkeep all of the things you have invited into your life, because your body moves at half the speed it used to, because you never faced the problem, the actual problem, because, well, you never at any point chose to live your own life. Beaten down by all of it, worn out, you will at last, throw your hands up to the sky and give up because you know it is already over, this is the end, and you have barely lived out half your life.
Perhaps you will get remarried, once, or twice. Perhaps your kids will come visit you on holidays, a quarter with you, because they must spend another quarter with your former spouse, and also, a quarter each with the divorced parents of your children’s newly acquired spouses, and you will find they don’t have much time for you, well, because you raised them to be like you, they are busy and their time is valuable.
So, then, several lonely years later, nearly half a lifetime later, you will finally, truly meet the end, at least the end in the sense of breaths and heartbeats and flesh and bones, because you were long dead well before this moment even arrived. You will know the last years, were the worst years, that loss of control, of freedom, during the fading years was inevitable, and that you wasted the years where freedom was even remotely possible, and that you slept through the entire experience, even if at times it felt as though you were not sleeping at all because you were conscious weren’t you, you must have been conscious, you were working so hard. And so, as whatever disease you were misfortunate enough to have been inflicted with makes its final assault on whatever part of you that is still barely alive, a few small tears will form in the bottom corner of those eyes, those beautiful human eyes that were meant to take in so much consciousness, and you won’t cry because at last you can see, but because you are a stubborn non-thinking thing and you are simply satisfied that a lifetime of suffering and herding has finally met its end. The end, the end must mean something right? If you made it this far, it couldn’t have all been a waste, could it have? You made the journey. You did everything they said you should. And so, you will ask that all-important question, was it worth it? But you will never know, and it is of no matter to you anymore anyway, because in death, it is too late to be asking questions about life, and that right there, that is the problem.
This kind of life, this cattle life, is not life at all, and you might wish to argue against this, and that would be fine because I am not attempting to sell anyone on the notion that their lives are not valuable, indeed, quite the opposite. Still, we could likely agree the sort of life I am talking about, is visibly unhappy. And I think, well, of course it is, anything, even non-thinking things are unhappy when they are outside of their own control, in the same way a tree first withers then dies if its roots have been obstructed from growing freely. What if we could go back to the beginning however, and relive the journey, would anything be different?
So then, let’s suppose that you could go back to the beginning and start this journey all over again, only this time, you would know from the onset, the journey that you were about to undertake, at least insofar as your present journey had previously taken you. You could not go as far back as the source of course since we must imagine ourselves somewhere within the finite set of possibilities that derive from our own personal experiences. You would however, arguably, be in a much better position to navigate the journey ahead in knowing the direction and possibilities that lie ahead. And in knowing such things, how might you make the journey this time around? Would you have pursued different people or let some others go? Might you have ventured down some tributary to explore or to expose yourself to experiences you had previously not been exposed to? I believe you would.
Now imagine you could do this as many times as you wished, go back to the beginning that is. Each time you did, you would be able to keep every experience from the previous journey. Presumably, you would get better and better each time, pre-empting the bends in the river, the rough bits, and the like, however, each time, you would go just little bit further, and then just a little bit further more, because within the finite amount of possibilities the river could present, you would have experienced everything the river could offer up until a certain point, so you push on each time.
Let’s imagine then, that you did this an infinite amount of times, until your legs could no longer keep your head above water, and you had truly come to the end, now holding onto those few final breaths of this world. Presumably, tired and having experienced every imaginable possibility your life could have presented, you would concede to the force and let yourself go. However, even in this, as a human, you will inevitably ask yourself right before you do, was it worth it? Having known everything there was to be known and having experienced everything there was to experience, I am inclined to think and you might disagree with me, that your answer will still be no, it wasn’t worth it after all, because no matter what you did, if you ended up where the river carried you in the end, you never really did find that freedom you sought after all, did you?
The fact is if our lives are truly like leaves, and they are, when we hit the surface of the water, we had already begun to die. So, in knowing that and in knowing we get one shot at this, why would we simply go where the river takes us? Kick, swim, struggle, do anything you can to make it to some bit of shoreline to call your own, and when you get there, free of the flow of the river, don’t stop there, dig, dig with your hands if you must, to carve out the land, to divert the flow into a calm pool, a pool that is your own.
The dreamer already knows this, only they are often too afraid to open themselves to the possibility that they are the ones who are conscious and not everyone else. Will you wait until the end to ask yourself was it worth it, or will you take that risk now?
No Years Lost,
A Young Giant