- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I awoke in the middle of the night at the behest of the nighttime howlers, who were holding a lively discussion over their latest dinner (pheasant? turkey? baby bison? pronghorn?). I had the unfortunate urgency to urinate. Unfortunate because I would have to remove myself from the seemingly safe sanctuary of my tent and I was still terrified by the proximity of the coyotes. Again, I encountered the mental struggle of facing my own irrational fears. The horrendous fantasies of being mauled with my pants down were just as paralyzing as my previous nights' worries, except now contained a bit of dark humor with the actual mental image of being attacked while peeing. Indeed, quite an undignified way to go out. I'll pause now for you to render your own mental image of this sad, yet in retrospect, humorous situation. (You're welcome.)
After attempting to fight off this pressing bodily function for the eternity of ten minutes ("Just go back to sleep...you can pee in the morning when it's light out", I thought), I relented and began mustering up the courage through positive thinking. "You will be fine". "They aren't hunting you, dumbass." "It's probably beautiful outside right now." "Just unzip the damn bag and flaps, walk out there, do your business." All of the reassurance I was aiming for with this self-coaching was not congealing into any formidable resistance against my fears. The reassurances would hold the fears at bay while I was consciously thinking them, but the moment I stopped projecting myself away from my situation through these little fantasy games, the dark forces of fear would again take my thoughts hostage. The back and forth struggle between my hopes and my fears was tormenting and just as an untenable situation as the terror fantasies my fearful thoughts were constructing. That struggle prevented from me taking any action, and I became mired down in inner turmoil. I simply lay there zipped up tight, arguing with myself. This argument began to produce a malaise over me...a general anxious state where I was completely in my own head. And once there, I find it very difficult to get out. It's as if the mental conflict creates an inertia against any action in reality, as well as from actually understanding the reality. I found myself no longer appraising the very real physical surroundings and my own condition within it (It is nighttime. I am camping out in a remote part of South Dakota. There are coyotes within earshot. I need to pee. I am scared. I still need to pee.), but was solely contemplating the conflicting fantasies my thoughts had rushed ahead towards...(Everything is going to end terribly and you will die vs. Everything will be alright and life will go on).
Reflecting upon this, I believe this illustrates the general condition of anxiety that many, if not all, people encounter in their day to day lives, in all situations. It does not have to be in the extreme conditions (which truly were not all that extreme, but what I mean is stripped away from the social world) in which I faced the anxiety. It is the general worriedness that permeates the every day mood of modern man/woman. The ungrounded, malleable fear of No-thing, but anything. This anxiety can be applied to one's job, a deadline, a relationship, the weather, financial situation, body image, and on. Let me take one of those and provide a specific example for clarity:
Let me use something as seemingly innocuous as the weather. Person A has a big plan that is contingent upon having "good" weather. Let's say a boating trip. Person A has been diligently checking the weather report for the past week with things, as weather reports often go, looking unclear. Chance of rain/thunderstorms. Every time Person A thinks about this trip, a projection of Person A towards an unlived future, he/she has a general feeling best described as anxiety. He/she is anxious. This may be described in positive terms: "Oh, I just hope everything will work out, the rain will hold off, it will be sunny and beautiful, etc. etc." or in negative terms "I can't believe there is a chance of rain. Gosh, this better not be ruined. If it storms, there's no way we will be able to go, etc. etc. But there is a general worry about a "No-thing". It cannot be about the weather, although that's what it seems to be, because that weather has not yet occurred. It's a future event. Therefore, it is not real. Certainly, the weather being a certain way ("good" or "bad") is future possibilities, but for the here and now of Person A, it does not exist, except as a mental construction. I am not writing here to get down into the details of the Philosophy of logic and as such will scurry ahead to my focus: the psychological implications of projectedness (pushing our Being away from the here and now into the mentally constructed world of past and/or future).
This specific example is just one, and I believe it is one that many, if not all, can relate to very personally. While this one situation seems rather harmless, I argue that this is just one instance of the general mood pulsing throughout the every day lives, in all situations, of modern man/woman. Modern man/woman has responded to the experience of Being and its fullness in the avoidance of it, through the creation of a small, objectified, manageable world that we call our "lives". That is troublesome. We often are like wrapped up tight in things that make us feel comfortable and safe. In everydayness, this is your job, your house, your family, etc. We are taught from an early age that we must create the life we want for ourselves. What does this mean? Life is an object to be constructed? Neatly. Tidy. Pretty. Safe. Stable. Comfortable. Static. This goes against the very nature of Being. But we've pushed on for it because it's what we are told to do...and it is comforting. It's comforting to think we have control of our lives. To have control over our lives. But. We don't. We don't have control of LIFE. Existence. Being. That is an everchanging interaction of forces outside of us and within us. Our lives, the way we think of that word, are simply socially constructed symbols. If I asked, what is your life? the question presupposes a subject and predicate, and means that there is a noun. That life is a noun? Our language here reveals a fallacy in perception. We perceive lives as nouns, objects, things. So we are trying to wrangle and control an ephemeral concept that is more a verb...every day we live out a struggle of trying to tame something that is untameable. No wonder there is a general ennui laying beneath are every day existence. That blah can't quite shake it feeling underlying all of your days. It's a reminder. You cannot control the forces of life. You cannot, and here is the kicker, get away from death. There's the adversary in our minds. Death and all his/her/its little minions of pain, suffering, despondency, anguish, etc. That's the essential reason for us creating and playing this game of creating something called a "life" and trying to manage, control it. To steer ourselves into a nice, comfortable life that limits pain, suffering, and transcends death. To use a wonderful phrase in our lexicon today: Epic Fail. By choosing to try to create a life, we fail to grasp what it means to live.
To return to my situation, it serves as a pretty great analogy. Here we are cooped up nice and snug in our sleeping bags and tents. It's okay. We could wish always want more things to make it better, maybe a nicer bag, bigger tent, electricity, a mattress, and on and on. You see others living large in their R.V.'s and may wish you had that. Maybe not. But these are all Things. Regardless of the type and amount of Things you have, they don't change the essence of existing there in the tent, they just change the objects and level of comfort.
However, There is certainly more to
Back to my urination debacle...Once I accepted the present for what it was and stopped trying to flee it in my fears or hopes and mental possibilities, I was able to act. I unzipped my bag, the tent and scrambled out of my small world into the all of it. Wow. Jaw dropping wow. The sky was a dark, overwhelming practically on top of me void...but illuminated with piercingly clear diamonds of stars. Everywhere. They seemed to be falling right onto the prairie plain as they stretched out to the horizon. The air was crisp, between cold and cool. Crickets played their songs, sounding off what must be nature's version of the violin. All this time, I was hurriedly doing my business, for the fears were still present. However, I was not letting them take me away from the moment! I did not try to dismiss them. I gave them their allotted place in the moments, and they mingled with the absolute awe I felt for the other aspects of those moments. Now the coyotes howls made sense in All of It. And it was beautiful.
This smacks of cliche...but "cliches are truisms and all truisms are true".
We do live our lives unconsciously on autopilot doing whatever it takes to find a safe, comfortable mode of Being. We do this at the expense of living presently. We sacrifice authentic experience to stay bundled up in our sleeping bags, inside our tents. Being is so much more than that.