Connection, Worship, Paradox.
February 15th 2017
I must’ve had the conversation 20 times with 20 different people before I thought to ask myself the most obvious question. I had always just used the quote from David Foster Wallace to cut to the core of a person and get a real conversation about real life going. I have always said that I am introverted in some strange way and everyone always laughs and they say how crazy I am, but I think I have finally realized I just don’t do well with small talk. I generally thrive most when I am in one on one conversations with like-minded people discussing things that I, over the years, have come to value. I don’t particularly care what someone does for a living unless it is the thing that they are most passionate about in life. If that’s the case, then I am so excited for them and curious. I actually remember a time when I was asked what my parents did for a living. Some adults really don’t know how to speak to children.
If I can share something I read that inspired me, and the person responds and reacts in a way that shows their excitement, then I am all in. They have already won me over. It’s just like playing a song that I love for someone for the first time. If they love it, I love them- it’s just that simple.
This particular quote from DFW I have pretty much memorized from having this discussion so many times.
“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”
And he goes on to explain in a succinct and facile way that there is a paradox that exists when we let our unconscious “default setting” dictate what it is we worship. If it’s money you worship, you will never feel as though you have enough, if it is your body and beauty that your worship, you will never feel handsome or pretty enough, if it’s intellect you covet the most, then you will always feel like a fraud, if its power, you’ll always feel helpless and weak. These paradoxical lessons in the unconscious have, for a long time, just been a jumping off point for a conversation that inevitably takes a million twists and turns and might never return to the idea that facilitated things in the first place and it’s for this reason that I’ll continue to keep bringing it up when given the opportunity, because I always, always, end up learning something special about whomever I am speaking with and without fail, I learn something about myself.
But despite having had this conversation so many times, I have overlooked the most obvious question. If you’re reading this, its probably clear to you by now what that question is but before I make it known, I feel it necessary to cite the short story with which DFW starts this same offering.
“There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming by them in the opposite direction who nods at them and says, ‘Morning boys, how’s the water?’. And the two young fish swim on for a while until one of them looks at the other and goes, ‘what the hell is water?’.”
The idea being that the most obvious reality can sometimes be the hardest to see. For so many of us, it has become far too easy to just float through life, guided by our unconscious desires and beliefs. But then, that is by far the most comfortable way to go about things. Digging in, excavating the garbage and truth alike, is as about as appealing as sorting the recycling from the trash — at a landfill. But if by doing so, by putting in the work to find my truths, painful and otherwise, I can actively participate in life to a much greater extent, awakened and present, then I choose the hard way ten times out of ten. The Buddhist idea of non-attachment is, I believe, perhaps one of the greatest philosophical offerings our world has ever known. But if I am unaware of what I am holding on to, I can’t very well let go.
So then, 2 years ago, I was in Warm Up Café with a table full of my Thai friend’s colleagues and students from her work and a few of my expat friends. I was sharing DFW’s ideas on worship with my friend Nick when, mid sentence, it hit me. I had never asked myself, What is it that I worship?. We were basically screaming this conversation at one another over the stentorian sounds of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters covers but I remember stopping and saying to Nick, “Oh my god, after all these times, telling this same story, saying time and time again that we all worship something, I have never stopped and asked myself what it is I worship!! This is crazy!” I didn’t have to think too hard to figure it out. It came to me in a flash that night on Nimmanhaemen rd. and for the last two years it has stood the test of my relentless scrutiny. The thing that I worship the most- the object of most of my desires and longing, is connection. It is the most important thing in the world to me. Connection is the practice, the idea, that I seek with the most vigor, most often. And as the paradox goes, whatever it is that we end up worshiping ends up leaving us feeling as though we don’t have enough of that something. This paradox makes a strong case for the worship of a deity, or some set of ethical principles.
Taking God off the table for me, I’ll take a look at the idea of worshipping a set of some ethical principles. I feel as though I most certainly have some pretty strict principles I choose to try to live by. But there is no doubt that connection reigns supreme. I suppose for the worshiping of the principles to have the desired effect (of not leaving one feeling empty and distressed), one must wholly offer themselves to the ideals set forth in whatever ethos it is they choose and stick to them. If they falter and operate outside their ethical dogma, then the conflict arises and maybe that is when the emptiness and disconnect comes about. I have experienced this in my life for sure. I’m not living the way I feel I ought to and thus, I do not feel good about myself. It’s really that simple.
The sad truth about my worship of connection is that the paradox holds true. And this is where it gets tricky to talk about. I write this with the utmost of humility, but there is no doubt in my mind that I, more than most people, have a group of people with whom I am close, that love me so much that I often wonder if it’s fair. And I’ll tell you right now, it’s not. No one should be so lucky. And yet, as the paradox goes, all too often, I am left grasping for hands to hold and seeking any sympathetic ears, alone at the center of my universe.
But when I reach a person, when I dig in and get vulnerable, share my fears and aspirations, if they are similarly minded, they then feel comfortable enough to do the same with me and then I fall in love. I fall in love all the time when people effortlessly offer themselves to me- the good, the bad and the embarrassing. Because at the root of every story or feeling shared- triumphant and sad and everything in between, there is likely a lesson and usually a sense of communion that washes over us from having our thoughts echoed or put in to words in a way we’d not yet been able to find. Sometimes that person we’re connecting with might just be a sounding board, and sometimes they might be our reflection, but almost every time, if both parties are open and honest, they’ll leave the conversation feeling a bit more hopeful and a bit more connected to the rest of humanity.
Last week was a lonely week for me. I felt alone and out of touch with life and love. I felt like a lost weird fishy, just floating through the abyss that is any one of our gargantuan oceans, being tossed this way and that by the current, never really connecting to much- settling for a moment to catch my bearings only to continue on in a direction I’m completely and utterly unsure of.
But after a weekend of immersion in human connectivity, I find it easier to view the exact same situation, that is- my situation, my life, in a completely different light. I am able to remind myself that, this is water, this is reality. Like the ebb and flow of the water in an ocean, life operates similarly and I should be so lucky to have the opportunity to settle for a moment here and there and connect to someone and move along. And not knowing where I’ll end up is half the fun. If I knew I was going to marry Susie Screw from age 5, I might not have met and known and loved so many people that have helped shape the person I am today.
I believe that the person that I am today is a direct result of the relationships I’ve had with the people I’ve met and known along the way in life. Luckily for me, I’ve known some really great people. That is not to say that, because I’ve known great people, I am great. I’ve also cherry picked a few bad habits and ideas along the way but thats just how it works, I think. I am a collection of the best and worst from my mother and father and all the other friends with whom I’ve shared an experience or two.
I choose to believe that, like the fish lost in the Atlantic, all that surrounds me is water. And not only am I not alone in this ocean of life, but, by way of the water that touches every part of my being, I am actually connected to everything.
I am rejuvenated and born anew after these interactions with people. The conversations are subtle reminders that we are alive and we are not alone. We are all taking part in something so special in life and it manifests itself in the most beautiful of ways when one person opens his or her heart to another.
I have needed a few days after my wonderful weekend at Shambala in your Heart Music Festival up in Chiang Dao, Thailand, to compose myself and position myself in the best possible place emotionally and mentally to put in to words exactly what I wanted to say. Just like drinking too much leaves one with a hangover the next day, something similar happens to me after a night or two or three of intense connection. Once the drug wears off, I am usually left feeling completely alone. But luckily, I understand that just as things ebb, they will also flow. So for now, I’ll just try my best to keep reminding myself, this is water, this is water.