Released on June 3, 2019, this is the final free Reflection that I will be releasing as part of my first non-fiction Reflection collection, Knight of Sophia, dropping Fall 2019. I was inspired to write this a while ago, but it was a Jimmy Pratt Memorial Outreach Centre board meeting that drove me to let it out into the wild today (I recently became a member of the board of directors). I hope you enjoy, and find some inspiration of your own within!
I want to take a moment to talk about our community. I am talking about the people that surround us, the ones with whom we make our lives, the ones who are trying to etch out their existence from the marble of reality, shoulder to shoulder with us. Every one of us is doing what they can to survive this day and the next, but we do not do it alone. Unless you take off to a retreat in the woods, like Thoreau did when he wrote his masterpiece, Walden, you are going to have to live with other people. And how some of us hate that.
Sartre said, ‘hell is other people.’ So many of us have taken it to heart. We close ourselves from one another for all kinds of reasons. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have with people take a turn for the judgmental. Between background, choice of dress, choice of career, choice of hobby, we love to think something beneath us to raise ourselves up. More insidious, in my view, is self-righteousness. We love to use our ‘goodness’ as a weapon to place ourselves above our fellows.
Some of us are not so ‘lucky’ to even have a claim to self-righteousness. Whether by choice or circumstance or some combination of both, some of us simply do not care about how we act. We are self-interested, wholly, and we are completely satisfied with that. “I’m an asshole, and proud of it.”
If we get further up the ‘goodness’ tree, there is the formerly wounded. We pull ourselves out of a hole and point the finger at the world. There is a tendency to say something along the lines of, ‘I have forgiven this person but they can no longer be in my life. I am choosing me.’
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for people expressing themselves however they wish to. I do not begrudge or judge anyone for anything. I might describe someone in a certain manner, but labeling people is not inherently wrong. If pressed, I would apply all kinds of labels to myself: male, white, born into middle class privilege, child of loving parents, one of a family of six, loving father, strange bird, fantasy geek, yoga enthusiast, somewhat body dysmorphic, recovering arrogant. All of these apply to me, in a way. I would not take a whit of offence if you accused me of any of those things (or, to be honest, anything really). Labels are inert. I would say that what can be ‘wrong’ is the intention behind a label.
The overt game of life is about identity. Without getting too far down a strange rabbit hole, it seems to me that our universe is made of language, because we need language to identify. The human experience is intrinsically about being able to point to something in our environment and to name that thing. On the whole, identification is a rather inert concept. But somewhere along the line we use it in our schemes of separation. This is this, not that. That is that, not this. There is an illusory ‘twoness’ to the world, obfuscating the truth of oneness behind an unseen mist. That is the way that it is for most of us, in our early days at the very least.
In some way, we become addicted to form as we progress through life. We look at the world around us and think it separate from ourselves. I have said it before and I will say it again: when we are born, we die to our true selves. We forget everything about who we truly are and instead believe in the world that surrounds us as being ‘reality.’ It certainly responds in a real way: the world feeds us, it nurtures us, it hurts us, it teaches us, it fills us with joy and despair. It can even kill us, which can seem a horror. If we have become fully addicted to form, it is easy to believe that the death of the body is the death of our being.
Some people say that fear of death is the fear from which all other fears spring, but I think that that idea does not go far enough. I think that the true fear comes through in this oft-repeated phrase: we are born alone, and we die alone. It’s not the death that is the worst part, it is the separation from everyone else. It is the idea of loneliness that seems the scariest thing to each of us. And what all of the spiritual scriptures and soul balms of the ages have tried to express, time and time again, in a myriad of different ways, is this: don’t fucking worry about it, my sweet. You’re never alone.
But Jesus in the garden, if it doesn't feel that way at times.
I read an article recently, about ‘incels.’ The ‘involuntarily celibate,’ these are young men who are playing an identity game of their own. Based on what they speak about in whatever corner of the Internet in which they band together, they think that the modern world of heterosexual attraction is a conspiracy of miserable bitches who only want to shag attractive men with a certain jaw line, leaving these untouchables in the dust. When they are not vociferously hating on everyone else, they declaim themselves as femininely ugly, share pictures of themselves with each other, and go so far as to consider plastic surgery as a means of escape from the hell in which they have run aground.
What speaks volumes to me, as a formerly frustrated young man who thought very little of himself, is how much this is about loneliness. These misanthropes feel alone, so they cook up all kinds of hatred towards all kinds of people. Some of them even react violently. Very sad stories from recent news include a man who identified as an incel that drove his van into a crowd of people in Toronto.
I do not apologize for anything these people do. I am saddened by the violence, and I cannot imagine the anguish experienced by the people involved at any level, from the victims, to the witnesses, to the first responders, to the relatives of those killed. That all said, one of the common reactions to this kind of thing is for the ‘good’ people to call for the heads of the perpetrators. I would say that we are lucky to have millennia of legal evolution that has put a damper on the ‘hang ‘em high’ reaction that many regular people have to violent crime. This is without even getting into the despicability of pedophiles and rapists.
The criminal justice system is very much a necessary element for modern society, but it is a reaction to something that has come to a head. Usually, there’s a whole sad history of a human being behind the actual perpetration of the crime. It is a trite idea that we need to do what we can to prevent this kind of thing. But I think that where we fall down is on the actual prevention beyond telling people, ‘if you kill someone you will go to jail for the rest of your life.’ Perhaps more helpful is to do what we can to nip it in the bud. This means community - real community.
If my theory is right, if it is loneliness at the bottom of the wellspring of hatred, then the only reasonable reaction is to combat that loneliness. How do we do that? With togetherness. I am not talking about getting together and singing ‘kumbaya’ in every park in the country. I’m talking about little things, like pulling our heads out of our own asses for long enough to hold the door for someone, of any sex. Or asking someone who works with you how their day is going and actually listening to what they have to say. It could be something as crazy as calling up and estranged relative and trying to mend the gap that years and grudges have widened.
The thing about mending loneliness is that it usually requires love and courage and maybe some forgiveness, somewhere, by someone. You could be the giver or receiver of the love, but it does have to be initiated. Why not decide to be the initiator? Why not be the lover, the courageous one, the forgiver? Each of us has the capacity. Sure, if we are stuck in our misanthropic ways, it might require quite a bit of courage and a significant reorienting of values to offer to take out a friend for a coffee and to listen to the story of their break up. That’s why it’s better to start with the little things. And then it can build from there.
It can and does become a habit. Because, to be perfectly frank, it feels amazing! It is blissful beyond any other experience, to reach out to others and be there for them. And when you set the example, people tend to respond in kind. They might open up with you, and then maybe, hopefully, it might give them the confidence to do the same with other people. We can be the training wheels for others’ humanity. Community is the truth, and dispelling the illusion of loneliness is what the world needs and always will need.
So next time you hear a sad story on the news, maybe think about reacting differently. Maybe instead of insulating yourself and thinking, ‘what a piece of shit that guy is!’, you might try instead, ‘who in my life could use a lift?’ Be an alchemist and transmute that nasty lead into kindness gold! Bake your Mom some cookies and go have tea with her. Give the guy sitting in front of your office with the little paper cup a few dollars and introduce yourself. Take your old man to the driving range to smack a few balls and catch up. Give the soup kitchen a few hours of your time. Sit down with your daughter and play Barbies with her instead of fucking off and watching Netflix.
Give of yourself to others and have no expectations of anything in return. And then, maybe, subtly, over time, you might start to notice that the world is a little brighter, a little more vibrant. The little tingles of bliss that you felt at first start to multiply and become more frequent. You catch yourself smiling more, for no reason.
And then, if we keep on loving in spite of ourselves? Sorry, no one gets that information for free, nor can it be reduced to language. It has to be experienced. But I can tell you from my own experience that it is worth it. Every single spiritual tradition, whether religious or not, will tell you this, in its own way: what we get from choosing unity over separation is worth more than any jewel or precious metal or trip to the Bahamas.
So what are you waiting for?