But, don’t get me wrong. I know. At least, I think I know better than most. I’ve spent most of my life in existential exploration and what is true for me now is as true for me as it has ever been:
All knowledge is self-knowledge.
Anything we think about the world or about anything, really, comes from what we think about ourselves. If we don’t know ourselves – if the Self is something foreign to us – then the world will share that same sense of unfamiliarity. Our senses are our means of observation but interpretation comes after that, from within, and without a clear understand of Self, there’s no way to make those observations make much sense.
There’s not a whole lot I can write about for you, this evening. I don’t know who might be reading. And I recognize that must sound a little paranoid, or even very paranoid, especially since I really can’t go into greater detail than that about who “who” might be. I can tell you only what I can tell you, and I hope that it is enough to satisfy whatever reasons you might have to be reading this right now.
Around ten years ago, I wrote that our “memories of the past are no more real than our visions of the future.” It was a good line then, despite its pretentiousness, and I find that it continues to have applicability in my life ever since I wrote it. A few weeks ago, I shared with some people very close to me that I felt as if I was standing on the banks of a Great River that had been my life, and looking back on it, it all made sense to me. I had a profound moment of clarity where I felt that, even though each moment felt disconnected or detached from each other, that I saw it all for what it was, and how it brought me to make decisions that I made at the time.
I now find myself back on the River, pretending I’m battling it when, really, I’m battling my own inner demons. Because we all know you can’t fight the tide, and there is no going upstream on this particular waterway. Time, in its linear representation in our lives, makes it very difficult to get a grip on anything beyond our own oars in the boat. We can only steer our lives but so much, and in the end, hope to know our Self that much better. I would like to try a spiritual retreat one day, like this retreat center in the Netherlands that I’ve heard about, as they’re supposed to be great for helping you to figure out existential crises. But for now, I’ll continue to do the best with what I’ve got.
So what do I have to tell you? That I’m depressed? That I’m lost? Is that where I am…what I am…or is that who I am? I can tell you I’m scared. Knowing what my past has held – those moments on that River these last three decades – and how it’s shaped my Self, for better or worse, can sometimes cause me to freeze-up in wonder and amazement at what might be just around the bend.
Isn’t it funny, the people we’ve known in our lives, and what they say about us after going long periods without contact with us? One might tell us how much we’ve changed while another could say we’re still who we were when they first met us. I wonder what perspectives these people hold, beyond what we, ourselves, have. What do they see that I don’t? Who am I? Who will I be?
It’s hard to tell, without that sense of Self. The River has no map and sometimes it’s rough and other times it’s calm, and there’s no stopping change, in all its glorious and terrifying forms. Accepting this reality is the first step to seeing life as that existential experience, and not a dilemma. To concede that I know but so much, even being as smart and experienced as I am.
I’ve lived nearly 29 years on this little blue-and-green ball, covered in a white patchwork of vapor – in this galaxy of hundreds of thousands of solar systems – in this universe of hundreds of thousands of galaxies. Who can I be, in all that? I’ve seen around 10% of the landmass of my planet, and I feel that’s a low figure compared to my dreams. I’ve moved 15 times, seen 44 states, 17 countries, lived abroad for over three years in Asia, held countless jobs in a wide range of fields, and still…I wrestle with the feeling that I’ve done so little. But this feeling is not static. Other times, I am amazed at all I’ve done and seen, feeling that some people live their whole lives without accomplishing half of what I have.
But the Fear doesn’t go away. I still don’t know where the River goes or even, outside of those rare moments of clarity, where it has been. Perspective is a fascinating thing, and that changes just as we change, if we do it right. Still…where does that leave me, today? In this moment, I might as well be back to school, not knowing jack, feeling lost and alone on that River. The Fear builds as I realize that feeling might be with me forever – fear feeding the Fear – and that leading to loathing of the Self.
Where am I going? What am I doing? Can I ever find peace? Did I make a wrong turn somewhere along the way? Is everything the way it’s supposed to be, or do I just delude myself into believing in fantasies like fate and destiny? I’ll never understand the complexities of existence; I’m not that smart. Which, I’m sure, gives you little comfort, because even if you don’t know me, you should be able to tell from this that I’m no bump on a log when it comes to the intellectual department. Are you smarter than me? Maybe. Happier than me? I hope so. These notions of insecurity that seem to continually pervade my life have less of an effect as times goes on, but my desire for existential understanding of Self, and thereby the world, doesn’t stop either. Sometimes you feed the Fear, and other times the Fear feeds you.
I’ll leave you with this, after this longwinded dissertation about nothing. Wherever you are – whoever you are – just keep paddling. Because while the River steers you, and not the other way around, without knowing your Self, no knowledge you might seek really matters, at all.
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