Today I learned about a fundamental flaw that our minds cling to because the alternative is terrifying, or so we believe. This flaw is the source of all our problems.
The flaw is so pernicious that it is not only the source of our problems but masquerades as a solution as well. The flaw is nearly impossible to see as it hides in plain sight. When you do catch a glimpse, however, any and all angst falls away in front of your eyes, unveiling a new reality in which problems cannot exist. There are only wide-open space and pure, spontaneous potential.
Sound cryptic enough?
While my explanation will certainly be lacking, there is a way you might know right now if the rest of this article will be worth your time. It’s your positive response to the following question.
Does life sometimes seem like a giant charade?
A cruel joke? Laughably absurd? Does everything seem strangely made up to you? Do you sometimes look around at people, in awe that they appear to take themselves so seriously? How could they? You secretly wish you could point out the absurdity while simultaneously harboring feelings of jealousy. You wish you could forget your foolish notions and just join the crowd of non-self-conscious people who fit in.
And then you admit that you take yourself just as seriously much of the time. So, you do fit in. Or do you? What the hell is going on?
It bugs you, doesn’t it?
If we could possibly give in once and for all to the absurdity of life, we might suddenly lose all motivation to accomplish anything at all. Then, what? And so we trudge onward, entertaining the absurdity but never really knowing how or whether to get to the other side of it, assuming that trip can be made.
The Big Talker
You see a man talking to his friends. He appears to be bragging about his latest purchase, his friends dutifully nodding in approval. And you think, “This guy just wants to come off like the ultimate alpha-male. Most of what he’s saying is probably an exaggeration – a self-stroke for the ego. He got a new barbeque and is using it to justify his greatness? What’s to brag about?
Then you wonder if his friends know what’s really going on but refrain from challenging him out of social duty. Besides, they don’t want to be confronted when it’s their turn to brag. Don’t make waves! They come back to crash on you.
This group of dudes seems to operate according to some unwritten rule. You can lie about how great you are and I won’t challenge you, as long as you don’t challenge me when I do the same.
When you consider that this microcosmic example applies to other groups, communities, and even nations – that this whole bullshit scenario is happening on a global scale – you are suddenly overwhelmed at how life could be so much nonsense!
Or as George Carlin put it, a stroke job:
We laugh. We move on. You might chastise yourself for overthinking or reading too much into simple situations. Why don’t you spend energy diving into life rather than questioning the ordinary?
But what if this phenomenon – the hidden reality that life might not be what it seems – is the key to mental health?
The Big Baby
The next dude you see is bitching about his wife. The nag! She’s on his back 24/7 and nothing is ever good enough for her. His friends, again, nod dutifully and crack a few jokes about women. You watch them prop each other up, with no one asking if there is any legitimacy to the nagging. If the Big Baby were to confess his nag-worthy failures as a husband, however, these guys would watch a house of cards collapse all around them; a house of cards into which you instinctively know every one of them has subconsciously invested their ego.
You don’t question me, I don’t question you. Let’s all work together to maintain the facade that we’re awesome, while anyone who disagrees is an idiot.
A therapist might suggest the remedy for the above scenarios is to be more genuine. The great quest is to become an authentic person. Be truthful. Don’t exaggerate one way or the other. Tell an honest story and allow others to accept or reject you based on who you truly are, rather than how you imagine others need to see you in order to grant their approval.
Authenticity appears to be a genuine step forward. But authenticity, strange as it seems, only scratches the surface. The root problem stretches much deeper, into a bizarre world that never registers in human consciousness for the vast majority of people.
If you identify with the above, please keep reading. I cannot guarantee that you and will understand what’s missing, but please read on for both of our benefit.
This post is dragging on and we haven’t even mentioned the symptoms of the flaw. Is there a worthy reason to leave the reality that most of us cling to without even knowing it?
Yes, when you build a house of cards, you inescapably invite a certain dread into your life. You know it’s built for show. You know the slightest wind or false move will be the end of the show. And then what have you got?
Anxiety, depression, and obsession with problems and solutions. We’re talking about everyday Western neuroticism. If you’ve never experienced chronic emotional distress or a vague sense that something is always out of whack, then you’ve no reason to search for answers or continue reading. Why would you care to question everything when all is well? You’re all set!
I’m not all set. For me, there has always been something missing. Vague feelings of disconnection and dread have plagued me since I can remember. I’ve always observed people from an emotional distance as if I didn’t belong.
Of course, I’ve had moments where I’ve been caught up in the moment with others – precious moments in which I’ve lost myself in social interactions. Ultimately, I reflect on those experiences as strange to me. While I’ve longed to belong – to feel normal – I inevitably pop out of it, back to my familiar self-consciousness within the big sham that is life.
Years of therapy have given me valuable insight and emotional healing from a long stretch of childhood trauma. I’d recommend a good therapist to anyone who needs to recover from chronic traumatic stress. In my experience, however, there are more than wounds present within many upset souls.
I’ve had trauma. But childhood experiences are not the cause of my angst. They’re an exacerbation but not the deepest issue. The core of the problem lies not in our experience but in the mechanism that turns outer experience into words.
Language is like trying to stuff a lifetime of clothing into one suitcase. But it’s worse than that. The universe is an infinite supply of clothing and here we are, needing to reduce it all to fit the handbag of the day.
I’ve always thought language to be a boring subject. But when you get a glimpse of what happens when we turn experience into words, your mind will open to the infinite potential of life. You’ll never comprehend it but that’s what makes the experience so rewarding. It’s awe-inspiring.
In this realm, problems don’t exist because problems and their solutions are symptoms of trying to stuff the universe into a suitcase. When you stop this compulsive, maddening task, you experience freedom, the other side of the absurdity.
I’m no expert on perceiving the infinite universe. But I have caught a mind-blowing glimpse. I want to live with a blown mind, in awe of everything. The alternative seems to be the typical mindset of tracking life experience, putting it into categories, measuring results and experiencing them as good or bad. It sucks.
Even good results produce anxiety because the moment we have them, we worry about keeping them or our ability to reproduce them. We’re slaves to the never-ending necessity of succeeding or failing, attached to these concepts as if the entire universe demanded the effort.
We measure and compare and plan and act toward that which cannot satisfy because the very effort produces angst. Success raises the prospect of failure. We aim for success while failure looms, a never-ending struggle that reminds us of pushing the rock uphill.
Why didn’t just walk away from the rock and relax under a shady tree? Couldn’t he even take a short break to recover a bit of strength and take in the view? That’s just it. Pushing the rock uphill eternally was his entire life. There was no concept or opportunity to consider or do anything else. He had one choice.
In the same sense, we live out our lives with one choice, to think and communicate understand with the only tools we’ve been given. The tools only allow for stuffing an infinite amount of clothing into a fatally small suitcase. Yet. stuff we must. To stop stuffing is to cease thinking and communicating. Not an option.