Look around. What do you see? People scurrying. Planning, making, doing. Ticking off bucket lists and achieving objectives. Bettering themselves. Head down, bum up in the dense and detailed thicket of living. There is nothing inherently wrong in this. After all, we have such a tiny window of awareness that it makes sense for us to look out and marvel at the view. Because it is spectacular. More than that: beautiful.
So why are so many of us, (by which I mean virtually everyone I’ve ever met), afraid to feel – scared to really have feelings? The answer, of course, is simple and poignant. Because when we truly feel we are reminded not just who but what we are. Animals. Mortals. Thus, by denying how we feel – or that we even feel – we can continue in the pretence that we’re not going to die.
This is why, for the most part, we live in a world of intellectual edifice. Of command and control. Of self importance. Of supposedly higher purpose. We have made up a million gods to justify us in this grand folly, to externalise and somehow validate the twin fantasies of meaning and mattering. Everything from organised religion to the so-called New Age helps us to believe that we are here for some kind of ‘reason’, specially anointed with a sacred mission, engaged in a jihad against death, sustained by the promises of enlightenment and eternity. Indeed, this systematic externalisation of meaning powers the engine of our central denial.
As children we grasp at the world to know who we are. The world gives us a name. A place. We look to it at every turn to let us know that we’re doing okay. That we matter. That we are not alone.
As adults we like to believe we’re past all that. So why do so many of us remain desperate for ‘the universe’ to have a purpose for us, to chaperone us on a special, individually tailored journey to execute the dénouement of an apparently illuminating narrative? Perhaps with our cleverness we believe we can fabricate a way to ignore what we already know. That at the end of all this heaving and hauling we will simply die. Like every other animal.
And all of our empires will return to the dust from which they were first carved – and our finely crafted narratives will reveal themselves to be little more than paracetamol for the soul. Stories that we tell ourselves to dull the truly awesome fact of our utter insignificance.
For we are barely even specks in the ocean of everything. Our time is so brief and our impact so miniscule as to be indistinguishable from zero. We merely pop our heads up for a blink to cram in as much of whatever it is we can, before quietly – almost unnoticeably – sliding back into great nothing from which we emerged. As if we had never even been born.
Many of you will decry this as overblown pessimism, as a bleak spiritual defeat. Some will think it simply lazy; an excuse not to care. Yet for me it is the most brutally beautiful, profoundly liberating, powerfully humbling acceptance I have ever known. I have surrendered to it entirely – not just with fancy sounding philosophy but with my blood. With my raging, irrational heart.
I don’t matter at all. Absolutely nothing does. There is neither reward nor punishment. Nor even judgement. Not failure, not wisdom, not permanence. The rain shall fall upon the just and the unjust. The mighty shall make bones as beggars do. My life isn’t ‘about’ anything. It just is … until it won’t be.
When I feel this I am free. Free to love you any way I chose. Free to make it sing with beauty. As though we were dancing in time.
Because I have accepted full responsibility for every hue of meaning I seek to colour my time in with, the external pressures have melted to nearly nothing, leaving me at peace to do with the minutes and hours I have left as I wish.
Which is to feel. To love. To know beauty. Be an animal. Walk that slender wire slung above a sea of nothing; knowing I must fall but curling my toes around the twine just the same.
And you can do it too. Let go of fear – because fear won’t save you – abandon the delusion of control and the righteous conceits of wisdom and stop searching for enlightenment or happiness. Yes, the ‘journey’ does come to a breathless climax – but you already know what the ending is. And you will get there regardless.
I do not say this to bring you down or to prove an existential point of order. In fact, I’m saying it because of late I too have begun to be afraid of the way I feel. Of how vulnerable my feelings make me. How exposed. How old. Tick, tick, tick …
Because the broken heart will say aloud things only whispered elsewhere.
Whoa! I hear you say. Hang on there! Broken heart? Isn’t this meant to be some kind of spiritual tract? Well no. Didn’t you read the title?
It’s love that’s driving this. An intense, possibly unrealistic, quite probably masochistic hunger for connection. Recognition. For the sweet and restful silence of knowing – and being known.
In the absence of gods and mandated missions – in the space left behind by the dissolution of meaning and the dethroning of destiny – I believe we only have each other. Fragile, foolish things that we are. Warm blooded, socially bonded mammals. Just us. Nothing else. So, even though I have lately been scared off and badly bruised by the masks of coldness that so many seem to wear as a matter of course, I am trying hard to retain the courage to keep feeling. To be open to you. To have a heart worthy of the giving.
Again, I hear you say: but why ‘us’ – why not just me? Didn’t you just say that I am the true source of all meaning and narrative in my life? Well yes. But you’ve read the title again now and you’ll probably have guessed that what I mean to suggest is that I cannot be without you. Because we are not alone – we just live in a culture that encourages us to forget this.
However, the prevailing and disempowering cult of self is easily exposed by the hard wired reality of us. Sometimes this is to our detriment, (pressure to conform, misguided notions of honour, the constant seeking of approval), but at others it is to our benefit, (love, compassion, humility). It is of course the latter to which this letter refers. For these I have freely chosen. These I feel will help to make my journey back to nothingness more meaningful. More beautiful.
Sure, I’ll be just as dead in the end – but I will arrive at the cusp of oblivion having known your arms around me. Having felt your soft kiss on my lips. I will have looked into your eyes and seen the calming presence of acceptance. Of a soul not so different from my own. And none of it will mean a thing or change a jot – except for you and I. (And maybe some of our friends.)
Or … we can choose consumer goods – be they physical or spiritual – and we can maintain our relentless pursuit of status and righteousness. We can continue the pointless struggle to create permanence where there is none and put our faith in the abstractions of ideology and self improvement. There is nothing superior about us feeling our feelings or accepting the blank stare of mortal, animal fact. We can live in denial if we want.
But do you? Really?
I’m not expecting you to answer. That’s not why I’m asking. I ask because I love you – and because it would be equally wonderful to have you love me back. For then we can walk to the line together. Not because it will save us – but because it will be beautiful.