Owning nothing, he sails through life.
Not possessions nor relationships,
not failures nor accomplishments,
not the vessel transporting his thoughts.
Everything borrowed, this life not his.
Although our body, and the character it portrays, may fully engage with its surroundings, we understand that this life is but a brief excursion, nothing truly ours. Having this perspective helps us find satisfaction amidst a life filled with upheaval and unrest. To be clear, on the surface we will own things, we will have relationships, we will fail and achieve — but underneath all this, we realize how temporary and detached it is, a mere story, and our character one of many we’ll play.
When I was growing up, a college diploma resulted in a well-paying career. There was no risk involved, one simply followed the other. And if you were capable, society expected you to attend college or else you were throwing a part of your life away, you would be worth less. It didn’t matter the major, employers were willing to pay graduates just for being graduates. And partying instead of studying was not only possible, but expected.
This system seemed to function for a while, but then it stopped working. Unfortunately, those caught in the transition seem to be suffering. People graduated, but society lacked the lucrative careers, resulting in unpaid loans and mounting debt, further resulting in lowered self-esteem and lowered quality of life. This is unfair to the graduates who were ushered into this system, who were guaranteed well-paying jobs, but were left hanging.
Today, a college diploma is associated with risk and debt, but there’s still societal pressure to attain one. The major matters now, it must be associated with a money-making career or else it’s a source of derision. Tuition and supplies cost more than ever, making the risks and debts even higher. Partying is a sign of not working hard enough. And, it’s expected you’ll earn less than your loan payments for a number of years.
But of course this is nothing new: certain segments within society suffer — not for the sake of suffering, but as objects of unrest. Some in society will perpetuate the suffering, perhaps profiting from it, adding to the unrest, while others will be compelled to fix the situation, and the rest remain as bystanders. Eventually things change, a new group becomes dissatisfied, and the drama continues.
Advanced technology demonstrates that humanity is capable of building upon recorded experiences. Yet in other realms, such as social organization (including the management and allocation of resources, education, health, and basic human relationships), humanity seems less likely to seek improvement by way of experimentation and the application of historical data.
While technology progresses, human society tends to remain in a static state of unrest. When compared to other capabilities, it seems absurd as to how well humans adapt to technology. Thousand-pound land-rockets traveling at speeds in excess of 70 mph are successfully navigated by 70-year-olds. Computers and the Internet integrate into society as if they always existed. And of course, weapons technology grew well beyond the simple spear.
It’s almost as if other realms of human activity are sacrificed for the sake of technology’s advancement. Does this mean humanity has built-in blind spots? Is it possible that humanity’s growth in certain areas is limited where as technology’s potential for progress is unlimited? Will boredom and complacency always lead to a natural decay in social organization?
But is technology the goal or merely a plot device to move the story along. Will advanced technology eventually collapse under its own weight, sending humanity back to a primitive stage — just as a tower of blocks is knocked over to be rebuilt. Perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago, a society more advanced than our own existed. To think this is the first and only attempt at reaching this technological stage seems naive considering the relatively infinite nature of the universe.
Life is unrest — in easy times, boredom — in hard times, stress. Things worsen, things improve. Even if we recognize the cycles, we must participate. Even if we understand the futility of life’s ongoings, we must engage. Ultimately we want to be here, that’s why we play this game, again and again. Life in its entirety is not meaningless, it’s entertainment.
It was a sunny summery day. I asked mom to drive me and my friend down to the harbor to launch our 2-person inflatable kayak. We were stylin’ in our sunglasses and bright yellow life-jackets — so off we went. Upon arriving at the harbor’s small beach, we unpacked, pumped up the kayak, and said “see ya” to my mom who left for home.
It was a beautiful afternoon and the harbor was calm and inactive, it seemed as if we had it all to ourselves. We paddled all the way to the opening of the harbor, but were somewhat cautious of the larger body of water which laid beyond, so we remained inside and paddled around the perimeter, then around a couple small islands in the center. It was a good time with plenty of exercise.
While in the middle of the harbor, away from any land, the sky suddenly darkened. Blackish-grey clouds loomed overhead — then the waves came. Whether it rained I don’t remember, “TURN INTO THE WAVES!”, I shouted. If struck on our side, I had the feeling we’d topple, so into the onslaught we drove, hard as we could, but a treadmill of turbulence kept us from progressing forward.
Crash after crash, the waves struck as we paddled fervently to keep our nose pointed straight ahead. I looked around wondering if a rescue boat might come, but we remained the only vessel in sight. And as suddenly as it came, it left, the sky was blue again, the water calm, we paddled to shore. My mother was driving up as we landed. It seemed odd she wasn’t concerned, but she had no knowledge of the “storm” that descended upon us — as far as she knew, it had been sunny the entire day.
(Actual photo from the day, a decade ago. Photographer: mom)
We can sway our attitude only so much amidst a dauntless onslaught of stimulation. But such savage stressors placed upon our mortal frames are brief, stinging more in memories. And so it is in the remembrance of such events, that our consciousness may adjust focus and perspective. Thoughts of the past, their maintenance and interpretation, fall under the auspices of the observing mind.
What is happiness, but the perception of enjoyment.
Perceiving enjoyment no matter the scene, is bliss.
By changing focus and perspective,
the unpleasant becomes pleasant.