Everything we experience can be overwhelming; just the raw nature of being alive can grate on the soul and leave one’s reserves of willpower and courage depleted. But what is the solution to this predicament? Is it right (or smart) to commit suicide if existence has become unbearable, or is there a better alternative to palliate the malaise of being? I’ve found it helps to view the world through a somewhat detached lens.
There are many proposed methods for detaching from the overwhelming seriousness of day-to-day human existence. In fact, it could be argued that all cultural arrangements, religions, relationships and other methods of altering one’s circumstances and perceptions of the world are sought as cures to an underlying dissatisfaction with being. But is it right to shy away from the unbound experience of being? And even if it is, is an escape raw experience truly possible?
The lenses we view the world through are drugs of some sort - they dull, enhance, accelerate, slow down, widen and contract our perception. But there is a constancy to their application, which is that the one wearing the glasses rarely creates them. Whether religion, culture, law — whatever — these lenses of perception are handed down through history, only to end up being worn by someone with no knowledge of how or why they were created. We have collectively forsaken our sovereign dominion over our perception by seeking shortcuts to enlightenment, and then, after having done this, our constructed falsehood of history has hoodwinked us into believing this is our natural state.
Sadly, even for those who are aware of this unfortunate arrangement, escape is tricky. Global power structures — the messy complex of governments, media, military, culture, countries, legal systems, prohibitions and so on — are all heavily vested against the reestablishment of individual sovereignty. Even governments whose founding documents chartered this sovereign freedom, such as the United States, are overrun by power structures which continually infringe upon the sovereignty of the individual.
Now, as I sit in isolation amidst a global breakdown of once seemingly problem-free systems of interchange, trade and governance, I see an opportunity to reestablish individual sovereignty. However, this opportunity is still imperiled by the problem of unconscious egoic domination. The ego itself is a piece of humanity - it is not evil, nor is it good - it is necessary for balance. In the same way that bacteria in the gut is good until one strain outgrows all others, ego is good when it coexists with the other pieces of a healthy and balanced human psyche.
Keeping the ego in check is complicated, for the tendencies of the ego predispose it to overgrowth. This toxic overgrowth of ego has typified the period of exponential industrial growth we are in, which started a mere 260 years ago with the industrial revolution. This overgrowth contributed to the malaise of being, and has broken down our trust in the individual.
Our problems have been outsourced to a web of professional expertise. As opposed to coming to know ourselves, we have been pathologized and categorized, so that when we encounter problems which lie within us, we seek answers from outside. Even institutions as seemingly benign as modern medicine are infused with (and built on foundations of) ego overgrowth. Modern medicine and her sister complex science are plagued with embedded, unbalanced power interests. The pipeline of medical education perpetuates a cookie-cutter view of the individual, whereby problems endemic to one’s own unique environment are reduced into a categorical map of symptoms and cures.
These reductionist models of not only medicine, but also culture, education and law, have permeated the lives of every societal participant. Though temporary escapes from these models are possible, we are invariably drawn back into the framework of culture, which molds us in nuanced and often unnoticed ways. An interesting example of this is language, which has a little-remarked colonizing effect on the human mind. The imprecise nature of the linguistic medium, which is constrained by the limits of grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure and communication method, feeds the reductionist models of society. Note that all knowledge gathered by a society requires a storage method. In most cases, this storage method is language.
It is not only the inputs we receive that are constrained by the boundaries of language. Our deepest thoughts and emotions, our expressions of love and frustration, our framing of problems and the solutions to them, these are all compressed into the reductionist thought-space of language. The culture we are a part of, and the languages we therefore speak, thereby constrain our ability to identify problems and build solutions to them. Worse even, the linguistic framework, as modified by culture, will often force the individual to distort their thoughts by forcing them to pre-process their methods of expression. An example of this can be found in language commonly used in social media, where complicated ideas and emotions are reduced into a stunted shortspeak, which leads to a higher incidence of miscommunication.
Reductionism seems to be a pre-requisite for the construction of an advanced culture, and the benefits of reductionist models are clear. How else could one condense knowledge about a topic as complex as the human body or the structure of morality into easily communicable forms but language? The invention of language, and the resulting models of reductionist thought, is absolutely marvelous. This being said, the downsides of reductionist models are not to be dismissed. But let us return to the question at hand: what can be done to reduce the malaise of experience without stunting its majesty and gravity - e.g. reducing it into language, science, culture, and other such activities?
An escape from culture seems imperative. This escape does not mean to flee from responsibility or leave the area where said culture is present, but rather to find the inner compass of morality and flame of contentment that is present within all of us. With practice, once this inner light can be reliably and easily found, the individual is imbued with a kind of impervious attitude towards outside goings-on. For once this flame is found, all that matters lies within, and what lies within one can control. Therefore, that which one cannot control, and that which does not lie within is irrelevant.
There are many routes to this realization, all of which necessitate some degree of isolation from others, such that an inner stillness can be listened to. From there, the methods of access vary wildly: intense exercise, solemn meditation, religious contemplation, breathing rituals, induced suffering, psychedelic use, and so on. Though different, all of these methods contain a meditative aspect of silence and stillness which allows the practicer to sit with themselves without feeling uncomfortable. Then, as the individual becomes more adept at traveling this rocky and uneven path to the inward light — the inner self — the godhead — a mysterious inner power begins to shine through them.
The individual begins to manifest that light in their actions and appearance, and this light becomes visible to those around them. When practiced to its most perfect form — not as a self-improvement exercise, but simply for its own sake — this process turns the individual into a beacon of light and hope for all around them. With luck, these people will in turn be set aflame with inner purpose themselves. This story is present throughout religious history, from Jesus and his apostles to the Buddha and his disciples. The beacon of light and hope that shines from the inside of a person out will invariably make the world a brighter place. And, in achieving this beacon status, all worries of the malaise of existence fall away, for the inner existence is all that truly is, and our malaise invariably comes from outside judgements, beliefs, occurrences, and so forth. The retreat of the inner self offers impervious protection.
~ Hugo Davenport