Luffy, Existentialism, and Knowing When You’ve Found Your Light

I just recently started watching anime again. I’d been off of it for a while, and I was curious about a couple shows which, to my surprise, I actually ended up liking. One in particular that was something I’d seen before but didn’t really catch my attention the first time around: One Piece. It’s about a kid named Luffy who wants to find the One Piece, which was left by this legendary pirate after he died. That’s all well and good and simple enough of a show premise. But what I hadn’t noticed until now, after I’d gone through the most hurtful pain I’ve ever felt, is that this remarkable show that’s going on 800 episodes is actually an allegory for Existentialism.

So fairly recently, I came out. I described it to this guy I’d met after that it felt like I was free. I could see things a whole lot clearer, and everything felt really easy to me. It was definitely a weird sensation, but a great one nonetheless. I’d got a good bit of work done in the time after; I’d had the brain space now to process and do those things that I wanted to do. And I wanted to keep feeling great. I was on my way to NYC when the blog post got published, so naturally I can’t see the reactions to what I’d wrote when I saw it. But it didn’t matter, though. I felt freed, and all that I wanted to do was see my friends.

I get to New York and I’m walking out of the terminal turning on my phone. The notifications come in and every single one I saw was of support. There’s another interesting feeling: I felt very happy. It was a different happy though, somehow. I wondered, and I felt very lucky at that moment: to come to place where you’re free and you feel like you’re whole. To then come to that place and feel that kind of feeling.

That kind of love.

So I’m pretty far in One Piece by now. I’m sitting here and it’s paused on episode 599. This is a pretty good ways in, and it does that whole timeskip thing that the long-running anime do. And there’s a moment in there Luffy seems to think he’s lost his will to live. He screams so loud and cries so hard, and beats his head against the wall to make the thought go away. But the thought is real, ’cause he experienced it. And he knows it’s real. And when he’s finally done feeling pain, he’s reminded by his friend that he still has something left. He has his pirate crew: they’re colorful ones, to be sure. But they’re strong, and they know exactly who they are and what they feel. Just to get more spoilery, up until this point, through the experience of Luffy, you’d have seen just what it is that made them all strong.

Luffy is pure energy. He has to be, he’s gonna be King of the Pirates. But what you see when you watch him building his pirate crew, is that he’s giving all of his energy at once and trying to convince who he feels he can be friends with, to join. It’s a really good-feeling show in that way. You can see their emotions coming through, and see the energy going in and out of one another.

I met this guy right after I’d got back from New York. Sparked up a chat and we were off, we wanted to meet each other pretty quickly. He asked what I was into and I told him anime. I told him I was watching One Piece.

“Oh wow, really? You too?”

We talked about that some more and then he asked, “this feels like I should get a drink with you.” So we met up. This bar off downtown with pretty good beer and very good cheesesteaks, we sat outside and we just talked. Talked and talked and talked some more. We talked for six hours straight, and I couldn’t finish my drinks. I only ate half of that cheesesteak I ordered. I still felt good, though. And we ended the night and he told me he’d like to see me again. We did, and it went on for about two months but for me it went on lightyears. He told me he saw my light, and I believed him. I flew through space, and I told him. He told me I was so in-tune, and it felt like I was. And at the end of that two months, he tells me that he doesn’t want to go further.

I don’t believe him, though. ’Cause he also tells me that he wants to keep seeing me and hanging out. He says that he wants to do all of the things that we said we were gonna do. That sounds a bit odd to me. I don’t really see how you could like someone’s energy and keep doing it, and really liking it, but want them to just… do it halfway all of a sudden. He couldn’t tell me why either, it was just “certain emotions.”

Buddhist philosophy is broken down like this:

The Buddhsa taught the famous “Four Noble Truths” and “Eightfold Path,” which allows people to achieve enlightenment. Enlightenment (nirvana, awakening, realization, satori) is the cessation of suffering, freedom from conditioned existence (samsara).

I was interested in this after he’d remarked on it one night. He said it was “pieces of a whole coming together to achieve enlightenment.” I thought that was an interesting way to put it, because I’d felt that before. It was when I’d finally put all of the pieces of my existence together and found clarity in them. So much so that I felt free and weightless, and that I could see so clearly and do anything. Finally realizing who I was felt like enlightenment to me. It felt amazing I wanted to live life for real this time, and I was reincarnated.

Another night, he then said that felt as though life looked dull for some reason. I pressed him on why, he wouldn’t budge. I told him “I don’t know man, I feel like life is in the experience!” He cut the convo off after that, he didn’t wanna talk about it. That moment stuck with me though, because that felt like the lowest point we’d ever had in our two months. But see, now I know why it was the low point: ’cause he is a nihilist. And he just met an existential nihilist.

To sum up the first half of One Piece, I’d say that it shows you the light that some people have, and then it shows you what happens when you forget how to feel, and you just think. Luffy felt everything, and he gave his energy away to people who he felt would be the best pirates to join his crew. He led with love, all the way. And an interesting character trope in shonen anime is that the main character can seem a bit dim-witted. But actually, he’s thinking how he’s supposed to think: with those feelings.

This idea is supposed to challenge the way you move through life. These characters are living with their full selves and people see their light; they feel it burning very bright. But what happens when you start to get bogged down in what you think you feel, which might be loss, you’re dwelling on what that feelings means instead of how it felt. You know you felt loss because you know you felt love first. This moment is actually shown at the end of the first half of the show, and a timejump is made. Interesting, right? The main character loses some light and knows that he lost it, but he just had to look again. He looked at his friends that he gave light to, and he could then feel whole again.

That’s the idea of “engagement and commitment.” That’s existential nihilism.

I cried and cried and cried some more after he dumped me. I just couldn’t get it. I thought I was seeing clear now, and I knew what I felt. I thought I’d figured out what love felt like. I was giving him this energy that I found, and that I kept giving because he said he liked it. I could look in between the moments and pick out exactly when I fell in love, but he just couldn’t see it for some reason. It was a really bad fall, and it hurt so bad.

But then, I went to my friends. I asked them “what does this meeeeeaaaannn” and I don’t really understand and they all told me variations of the same thing: man that’s weird. Soooo weird. They didn’t get it either, reaffirming what I was feeling. And I felt good when they told me that, that my sneaking suspicion that something’s gone awry not with what I’m not seeing, but what he is. Here were people that I’ve really known, and really feel like I know, I gave them this energy I was feeling, and they told me Nah. You’re okay, it’s nothing wrong with you. But I also felt good because I felt this feeling before. I felt it after I came out, when I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders and I just flung it off. Love came with that feeling, and it was an unconditional love. When you’ve bared all you feel and you laid it out plain as day, and someone comes and sees the pieces and tell you, Okay yeah. Are you feeling life now? Good. Here’s some love.

So that’s how you give it. You give it unconditionally. I’d always had my friends and my family, and they loved me so hard. They loved me when I cried and when I didn’t, and when they wondered what was wrong when it looked like there was. I don’t think I ever really saw it. Because there was something wrong, and I let it cloud my headspace. I was suffering and I was conditioned to think a way, afraid to live, but when I looked at life and made sense of it, I could then know. I could be free and take love, and then give it away freely, not even thinking about what I thought. I was just feeling.

The most important feeling I felt was when I had bared my soul to anyone who would look, and they returned the favor by giving me love back. I felt that love and I knew that that is how love feels. And since you know how it feels, you now know how to give it. You learned how to give it, because you were free when you got it. Your mind was clear when you got it, and you didn’t have to think. It just came. But it came because you were shining your light and someone saw it.

So now I’m looking at life like this, and it’s fairly close to how he sees it: there are these pieces, but they’re not the same pieces. You can see them the same, but that’ll make them a lot less meaningless. It might look dull to you. But they’re different, and they can be very drastic, or even similar in some ways. What’s important though is they are whole. Making sure that there isn’t a piece missing within the piece. Finding wholeness is finding freedom, and finding enlightenment. But once you stop thinking about what finding enlightenment is, and just let it come, then you’ll really know.

You’ll know you’ve found One Piece.