Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Life, Existence And Being A Ghost

"Wir sind geboren um zu leben, nicht um zu funktionieren."

"Das Leben ist zu kurz um es mit Warten auf das Wochenende zu verbringen. Jeder Tag kann schön und der Letzte sein."

"I feel so non-existent.... I feel like I'm dead and a ghost."

What I've quoted above is three quotes from my Twitter timeline. They are all, in their own ways, related thoughts but, more importantly for this blog, related to thoughts and ideas I regularly have or think about. The first two, written in German, suggest that life is to be "lived" and not merely to be functional. The similar English thought is to differentiate existence from living. The first is simply being but the second is thought of as more. And as better. The second German quote above says that life is too short to wait for the weekend. Every day can be good and could also be your last. So its recommended that you enjoy and get the most out of every day by implication. And as for the third quote above... Well that interests me the most and it has since I first read it. For what exactly does it mean? Even the person who said it does not seem to know. But it seems negatively related to my first two quotes.

As far as the first two ideas go my instinct is to critique and reject them. "This day could be your last," its said, as if that were some kind of motivation to do something good, worthy or fulfilling. But if I knew that this day was my last I wouldn't do anything. And knowing it was would be the major motivator in that fact. The fact I'd have one day left would guarantee I did absolutely nothing on that day. Because being brutally honest with you I'd be damn happy that it was. You see I see life differently from very many other people and often I imagine that these people don't think very deeply. I may be right or wrong about that, of course. I think they just swallow ideas such as that "life is for living not existing" without really thinking about them or doing the hard work of asking what they mean and if it is experientially true. This, I take it, is the most important truth of all, the truth that you feel.

And so I ask myself why the fact this might be my last day should matter at all. It would matter to me merely, and with relief, because it would mean for me that the burden of this fleshly existence is finally being removed from me. Yes, that's genuinely how I feel overall about life and one can only be honest for there is no wrong answer here - just your answer. When people say to me that life is for living and not existing or, in German, um zu leben, nicht um zu funktionieren, I sort of think I know what they mean but I don't really. Perhaps I've only ever existed and never lived. And, if that were true, how could I be expected to know the difference anyway? The difference here is one of experience not book knowledge. Its not a matter of facts but of having lived. And, whatever you might say, its somewhat arrogant to imagine that everyone's experience about life, or thoughts upon it, are the same as yours. But, and this should function as a warning here, its also dangerous to think that you are the only person feeling like you do or that no one ever has before. We all walk individual paths. We must for we are individuals. But we are the same species and can share and have things in common and we need to remember that. "You are not alone" is both true and not true at the same time.

So you can take it that I'm not buying any feel good horse bollocks about "life is for living" without a heavy dose of experience-funded cynicism. Life, in many respects for me, is for getting through and I have earned the right to think that having struggled through forty seven and half years of bullshit to get to today. That individual struggle earns me the right to talk about life as I have lived it and experienced it. Some of this may be relevant to you and some may not. But, I repeat, there's no wrong answers here anyway. So be bold enough to think what you really want to think and say what you really feel. 

As I've said before, I have come around to the view that life is less about external circumstances, which is the obsession of the masses, and more about internal ones, which seems to me to be either ignored completely by people or brushed over with lip service. Without going into details its fair to say that as the world sees, a world all about possessions and status, that I'm pretty much as far down the pile as you could get. I am in many respects a hermit. I don't fit in and rather than struggling to do so I choose to accept my fate and not do so. I don't own very much. The money I have is inconsequential. I have no friends and the vast majority of people I speak to in a day are online. If I couldn't get online I might go for days without talking to anyone at all. And yet, in a way, none of this really bothers me very much because, as I say, life for me is not about externals. Its about internals and these internals are things I've struggled with too ever since I was really even an adult.

I have not known a lot of peace in my life and this is because I've had to deal with internal trauma for a lot of it. Perhaps now you understand why superficial, external things mean so little to me? Its because what good is stuff or status when you are fighting against your own mind and feelings? They are no use and of no help. Your own mind is literally something you cannot escape and to fight against yourself is probably the hardest battle of all. There is a history of mental health issues in my family. My mother and her twin sister suffered from various maladies and to a certain extent still do to this day. This has for them been a lifelong battle throughout adulthood. Every day for them can be full of surprises and not the nice kind. Imagine waking up and immediately you feel afraid. They don't have to because it has happened to them. Its happened to me many times too. Both of them suffer from a fear of traveling and my mother recently took a short break away with a friend. She was as white as a sheet waiting for her friend's car to arrive. For some people simple things are major hurdles.

But unless you know someone like this I imagine that it would never even occur to you. We all have a tendency to think that everyone else thinks like us and I've written about this before. The truth is that some people do and some people don't. We are all a strange mixture of shared thoughts, feelings and emotions. We each have our areas of experience and areas of lack of experience. I remember once having a panic attack in the street near where I was living. My first impulse was to speak to someone and I saw a neighbour from across the street who I had seen many times before. I still remember the look of complete fear on her face and I can only imagine that I must have looked like some crazed axe murderer walking towards her from that look on her face! I just wanted human contact as a means to get control over how I was feeling but for her it seemed to look like something terrible. 

We hear a lot today about people with mental health problems but it is not usually in a positive connection. Maybe its because someone has been killed or there was "a crazy person" on the bus or in the shop or in the street. Very few of these people are in any way dangerous and, of those that are, most are more likely to be dangerous to themselves much more than anyone else. But, for those who don't understand about the many forms of mental health issues that abound today, it can all just seem dangerous and threatening - as the unknown usually feels to most of us. It is striking that it is in the most developed nations of the earth that mental health is the biggest issue, as if modern society had created its own casualties. And I must be honest in saying that I think it does. I'm probably one of them for I find a so-called modern way of living to be utterly crazy and contrary to more natural means almost to the point of total frustration sometimes. This is not just as a matter of its physical circumstances but also in relation to its guiding philosophies. How can it be promoting of good mental health, for example, that we are all in theory competing with each other for wealth and prosperity? It seems to me that if you wanted to make some people sick that's the first thing you would do.

"Life is to be lived not just experienced" we are told though by the prophets of superficiality. I'm not sure they would say that if their "experience" was as dark as it is for some people. Life, for them, might be more something to be escaped. "Living", whatever positive spin that is being given, seems more like a fabled Never Never Land, a thing which some people say they have but which, for those with dark personal experiences, seems false and unreal. And, indeed, if "living" is merely about having stuff and earning money to buy the stuff and maybe having a status which gets you the money to buy the stuff then isn't it false and unreal? I would argue that the real riches such people have are never waking up soaked in sweat or never being worried about feeling deathly afraid as they board a train or carrying a feeling of dread just about the fact that you are you and being you is like an uncomfortable coat that you can never take off. For some people being who you are does not come easily.

And this is the sense I get from the quote "I feel so non-existent.... I feel like I'm dead and a ghost." For what must it mean to feel like you don't exist? It implies an absence of feeling, an inability to inhabit or enjoy things, as if everything is only observed but without being able to take part. It doesn't sound very pleasant to me but it does sound very genuine and I value that fact for I value those who speak truthfully and not in the words of conventions or cliches. But from my own experience I think it must also be somewhat contradictory for the more I have felt an outsider to my own species the more personally aware I've become just how much that makes me one of them. This entire blog started with a search to discover humanity and what "being human" is all about. Eighteen months later its still on-going but its only a sub-section of my so far forty seven and a half year investigation. I have been exploring it in words, thoughts and music. Sometimes I feel like I touch something meaningful and at others it feels like none of it matters anyway because "all things must pass". 

The recently deceased Italian genius, Umberto Eco, wrote in his book, Foucault's Pendulum, that life was a meaningless enigma made worse by us because we had a desperate craving to infuse it with meaning and have it all add up to something. The plot twist was that it does not. We are just left with the feeling and idea that it must. I very much go along with this thought and my life seems to be a sort of validation of this idea up to this point. This is one reason I've felt the need to cast off very many human conventions which, ultimately, buy into the idea that things MUST mean something, something overarching and over all. But the truth is they mustn't and that they can mean whatever we want them to mean. And that can include nothing at all. But, be warned, what you think and feel must have consequences for you if you do it genuinely and authentically. Life is not a game and you cannot fool yourself. That is to say you can fool yourself but it leads nowhere good.

For me, life is about being at peace with myself. I've said this before. If you are at peace with yourself I think this means you are stronger, more able to deal with things in general and more able to set things in context. I think its partly a spiritual thing, whatever that means, and partly philosophical. I have found that in life I've had to do a lot of reading and much thinking to achieve this peace. It is not won cheaply and it is not bound to happen. You have to work for it and earn it. But I genuinely believe its the greatest prize a human being can have. But then maybe that's because I have to fight for it every day. I do not know what it would be like to not struggle in my existence. I've hardly lived a day where I didn't. But, in a way, I'm not remotely sorry about that because when I look out and see people living what I regard as empty, pointless lives acquiring stuff I feel glad that my struggle grounds me. Existence itself is not a small topic but at least I'm connected to that in my existential struggles as maybe you are in yours. It is good to step back and situate yourself in some greater context. If life is for living and living is a daily argument over who has what then I find that nihilistic beyond imagining. Life may not be merely functioning but living isn't mere selfish acquisition either. It must be about sharing, understanding, situating yourself in something more than yourself. It must be about everything of which a human being is capable and can experience. 

If you would like a musical commentary on all of this it can be found on my Bandcamp where the best of my last 8 years of music is now available, a musical commentary and testimony on my thoughts about life. Its at 

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