Thinking, What Matters in Life, and Other Troublesome Things

Note: this post is very abstract, and probably only makes sense to me (and even then, not so much, and I could be wrong).

A few days ago, I was struck by a realization. They’re great and illuminating things, if not always the most pleasant of encounters. My realization was of a very specific nature and kind, the one I imagine is the most powerful: some realizations strike like a hot, heavy brick to the face; just as sudden, and just as impactful.

But for the magnitude of the aforementioned realization to be understood, I must explain a few things about myself. It started a while ago …

My thought process consists predominantly of questions, and like all things, there’s a reason behind that. A much-repeated phrase of mine is that thinking is the delicate art of asking the right questions. It’s a strategy that, in times of deep introspection, proved helpful in clearing away much of my prejudice and bias; things so benevolently bestowed upon me by almost everyone, things courtesy of society, family, friends, passing acquaintances, everyone. To be human is to voice opinion, and to be young human (me, in this case) is to act a sponge to said opinion. Wittingly or otherwise, everyone has something to contribute to the growing psyche of young boy. About two years ago, after at least fifteen years of being force-fed said opinion, I’d grown to become a receptacle of a menagerie of absurdity; an amalgamation of irrational and often contradictory beliefs. It was a mess.

There was no conscious thought. There was nothing behind the actions I took; there was only blind, ardent self-righteousness. I thought I was acting on free will; I thought what I did was in accordance with the absolutely correct and infallible, but the truth is: I was more a drone than a person. I championed ideas of hatred and ugliness, things I now hold to be unthinkable, and discredited others for being of other opinion as frequently as I breathed.

It was interesting. There were pillars of truth in my head, unshakable things that seemed so until they didn’t; and like the greatest of realizations it seemed as though it had always been in plain sight, elusive and hidden, but nonetheless ever-present. It had always been there, but some things aren’t seen right away. It stunned me, and has flourished to form my every other belief and sentiment. I was proverbially stopped in my tracks. It was a very simple notion: What if I’m wrong?

You see, we have a hard time admitting to being wrong, and countless passionate arguments to the effect of “No, I’m right!” only illustrate this. It’s safe to say that humans enjoy being right – the glory of it pleasures us. Even when we find reason in the view opposing ours, many find it out of their ability to admit the other party’s correctness. We just want to be right. And I did, too.

I wanted to be right.

But I didn’t want the new structure of belief to be built upon untruths. The logical next step, then, was to apply the question to every possible notion that passes my head. It started with small things, as you might imagine; these things always have meager, soon-to-greatly-grow beginnings. The seed, foreign and teeming with exciting new possibilities and promises, had been planted. I accurately detail when it started now, yes, but I only realized that I had started questioning everything later on, long after it had happened. I only realized when I noticed its absence – the towering structure of my beliefs, my entire conception of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, had went up in flames.

But then there was the time of questioning; the unending questioning ensued; to use another much-repeated phrase: a new era had begun. It was a new phase that dwarfed the one before it in terms of both mental processes and introspection; a new phase that rose a phoenix out of the ashes of the former phase, and disgusted at its predecessor and its ways, strived to be anything but.

With almost every thought I had, another followed, the latter to the effect of “But what if that’s wrong?” In many cases, it became painfully clear that, in fact, that was wrong; I had been harboring racism, blind faiths, trite, discriminatory and contradictory notions. Things I have learned to abhor, but that had so forcefully been made to assimilate into me. I walked alleys that I had never walked before, and inside was clutter; inside were cobwebs and articles of a time that, I was determined, I would soon call bygone. It was a lengthy process, the closest I had -and have- come to finding myself, and, by the end of it all, I had come upon an outline of the person I am today. I found myself – a person that, to the best of my ability, was created free of meddling, free of the maliciousness of what plagues our society – entirely my own.

But then another problem walked into view. It was all well and good to take a critical look at things, but what do you replace the tired ideas with? And which do you replace, and which should be held in safekeeping? What’s wrong, and by extension, what’s right?

Questions, questions, questions. But where are the answers?

It could have been that I was asking too many questions too soon, that my approach was overzealous, but in any case the inevitable was to come; the shatteringly loud uncertainty of it all bore its teeth, and it was frightening – and very disorienting. That’s the trouble with emptying your mind: you have to fill it back up again.

Faced with that, I turned to the realms of the idealistic and virtuous, clawing at as many virtues and hurriedly installing them into the new psyche. Kindness, benevolence, hatred of none and love (as much of it as was fitting) for all, honesty, caring – it was all there. I didn’t realize at the time, but now that I think back, I was conforming to another image of how I should be, one proffered by the same people of whose bias and prejudice I’d attempted to purge myself – except this time, I was being fitted with value consistent with morality, and I was aware of it, as opposed to a passive receiver of unspoken orders.

The new change, I thought, was more transitional than decidedly stable. I opted for the path that I thought would have me hurt and do wrong none – on the contrary, it would have me be good; the same good that so many tout as being the highest standard of morality. I conformed, once again, but this time consciously, and with an arguably stronger sense of purpose. I didn’t know the truth, but until the day that I do, I resolved to become a saint.

But there was still the matter of the delicious truth, and my desire to fill the chambers of my mind –then occupied with being good– with it. So, I tried to find it. What was the truth, what was the inarguable absolute truth?

For the longest time, I told myself, in order rather than plea, to realize what matters. I became obsessed with it – that which matters.  It could be any one, or all, of many things: some obscure philosophical notion; the meaning of life; the reason for my existence; an end that I should devote my life toward; what I should do with my life.

It could have been anything, something, but of course I didn’t know what.

A few days ago, I understood what that is – the realization that I first mentioned (and that I would have mentioned right away, if only I didn’t have to add a prelude).

The realization was thus: That which is matters, simply, is that which I make matter.

It isn’t what is objectively meaningful, because I ampart of the equation, and by definition, what matters only matters if I make it so, or if it reconciles with what I think should matter. Now, that doesn’t provide a specific answer as to what matters, but it’s a step closer to the destination.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a piece of the puzzle, a shard of the answer: the people I care about. They matter. Their happiness matters.

As a result of a number of events that I will refrain from mentioning, I realized that the people I care for are at least part of the answer I sought. Their happiness consistently translates to my happiness, and happiness is something I seek – you could say it matters to me.

There’s another interesting school of thought that I feel is worth a mention: nihilism. For a time, I was infatuated with it. Those who believe in nihilism (nihilists) hold that there is no morality, and that life is intrinsically meaningless. A word of love –or hatred– is but a wave in air, and a wave is but a distortion. A dead human is the same number of atoms as a living one, and so it doesn’t matter if, say, a person is saved from a burning house, or shot to death. I imagine that’s how those who step out of the confines of what we call sanity rationalize it. If nothing means anything, and if one believes so, then one becomes fearless, one becomes uninhibited, one becomes remorseless, one becomes absolute.

It’s a radical school of thought, and –at least for me– its radicalism makes it tempting to believe in. It’s certainly not a popular belief (at least, not among the people around me), and that is appealing – there is appeal to the new and dissimilar from the regular.  But I’ve come to rationalize it as being untrue:

As humans we only experience life though the senses, through our ability: perception. And the meaning we give to life is intrinsically ours, it’s an inherent part of being the human subject; then, if experiencing life, if the very act of living, predicates on a part of the human condition (perception), then how can other parts (attribution of meaning to life) be discounted as meaningless? If one takes into account one part of a thing, then I imagine one would equally have to consider all elements of said thing.

Conclusion: What matters to me, the long-sought treasure, is simply what I rationalize it to be.

It doesn’t escape me that, objectively and by virtue of an absolute truth and law that I’m unaware of, I might be completely wrong. I might look back at this years on, and laugh at my ignorance, but at the moment this seems the most logical set of conclusions. This, again, is no clear answer, but a means to finding one; guidelines to finding reason in being. Now I must resolve to not only find the rest of what matters to me (which I imagine many have to go through, too), but to also have the courage to uphold what I believe in.

I could be wrong, certainly. But I’ve found what I think matters to me.

That’s enough for now.

No idea is out of bounds, no thought is forbidden. You are what you are, and the only sin is cowardice.

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8 comments

  1. But wouldn’t adhering to what you think matters provide the grounds for more racism and discrimination, only of a different breed? You basically went around in circles, chasing the tail of your own logic, going around the equation limit without actually determining the proper interval. Kurt Vonnegut put it better than I possibly can, and it is this, why? Because we’re all bugs caught in amber, that’s why. There is no why. You may argue that this a literary approach on nihilism, which goes to prove my point that even my rationalizations are within the same limit you were circling earlier, which may somehow be there to bound human’s logic on some sort of balance of the the given quantum quota. You shouldn’t be trying to figure out the right way to live as much as trying them all out in different phases of your life, taking something out of each phase and making it a part of you. Only when the mixture has enough incongruencies do you get a hint of what is ultimately congruent, even if a vague hint, at a delayed point of time when it couldn’t be put to proper use. Which goes back to confirm my earlier quantum equation, the fact that ability, epitomised in the powers of youth, and knowledge, that comes with age and experience, couldn’t coincide. If they did, the whole puzzle of the universe would be rendered obsolete in the first couple of centuries. Wouldn’t you say? Stop looking, start living, there’s not really a way around life, and there aren’t any books or any train of thought known to man that could possibly know more than a couple of steps ahead, but people forget that life is not vector and there may be a lot of directions towards which those couple of steps may be taken. Reverting to thought alone would render you tunnel-visioned.

    1. Enlightening! Your comment is just what I aimed for with this post: an evaluation of my train of thought. And you’ve so eloquently provided that. Thank you! I agree, it seems I’m undertaking a fool’s errand. Your advice is duly noted, too. =D

  2. I do not feel that I am on a philosophical level worthy of entering into the debate of two such great minds as above.

    I just wanted to say that a lot of your thoughts and experience echo my own in my battle with religion and beliefs.

  3. I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Sunny. I was tempted to argue a few points, but decided against it. Your mind and thought methodologies are profound and I wish to leave them undisturbed by the noise of my own thoughts.

    You are an enlightened young man, Sunny. God bless you!

    1. I’m honoured! And no, please do offer counter-arguments! I was told a few days ago that ma’looba is a dish you can prepare with almost anything as ingredients, and the more you add the better it gets – I think that’s a fitting analogy for thinking: adding to the mix makes it better. So if you’d still like to argue, then please do! I’d appreciate it. (And again, I could well be wrong, but it’s realizing one’s own fallibility that’s important, not being right.)

      Thanks for taking the time to read this! ❤

      1. Well, I apologize for any damage I might cause, but here goes nothing.

        Firstly, it is (in my opinion) arguable that we should label things as right or wrong to begin with. There is no such thing as right and wrong. Things just are. I’ve written about here: http://budzaya.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/on-right-and-wrong/ if you are interested to know more about the idea.

        Secondly, the term “happiness” is highly overrated by our species. After years of thought and struggle, I have personally come to the conclusion that happiness is – by it’s very nature – temporary. In that light, seeking eternal happiness simply does not apply. It’s like trying to quench thirst by scratching your head, or comparing apples to stones. With that in mind, your search for happiness differs in its very nature. Even your desire for it changes.

        Thirdly, and lastly, replacing your previous “givens” with new ones is a step, but I’m afraid it will leave you dissatisfied again down the road. For starters, you chose high and mighty things, but as defined by who? Additionally, being so benevolent is not in our nature as humans. Yes, we like being “good”, but it is necessary for our sanity to hate. It’s what we are made of; contradiction. We are not ultimately divine; we are part human – and a bigger part for that matter. Thus, freeing yourself of things such as hatred and trying to be a person who is extremely benevolent, kind and loving defies your very nature as a human and will leave you dissatisfied again in the future.

        These are my personal ramblings and current (open for change) conclusions on these issues.

        Other than those three points, I simply agree with every single word you wrote and can proudly say, “Been there. Done that.” Thus, the theory of you being a younger, male version of me stands again! =)

      2. When I replied asking you to offer counter-arguments, I was sure that if you did, it would be with something of mindblowing scale. And I was right!

        I see life now as being an exploration, and it’s people like you who make it happen, by bravely and boldly stepping outside the realm of the trite and the tired, and producing original thought. And it’s very admirable.

        Thank you! People like you, with thoughts like yours, are hard to come by, Budzi.

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