I tend to turn toward fantasy when my world stops making sense. It’s a bit of escapism, yes, but it is also born out of the deep understanding that reality is no longer operating as expected. I think this must be why so many people appear to be caught up in alternate explanations of reality, history and science. For me, it’s a dip in the waters of creativity, exploring a few “what if’s…” and then returning to the world that I see outside my window and in my news feed. For some, though, I can understand how it must feel safe and secure in a weird way to know that there are a plethora of underground alien/military bases everywhere beneath us.
I’ve tried to understand the way that I view the world through the generational lens–and maybe this has become too narrow of a framework to build a real understanding for why I hold the mix of trust and mistrust for institutions that I do. On one hand, I have mostly embraced new technologies, getting on social media platforms as soon as I heard about them and purchasing the latest must-have gadget within a few years of it becoming widely adopted. On the other hand, I have held a lot of mistrust for some things–and still like to keep them at arms length. I have never hailed a ride using a ridesharing app. I have never made a purchase at a store using my smartphone. I tend to prefer reading hardcopy books over electronic ones, with some exceptions.
I suppose that anyone you meet could offer a series of explanations for why they are not of their time, but I have noticed how I seemed to have been too young for a lot of the GenX stuff that permeated the late eighties and nineties and too old for the Millennial trends that started to appear in the early 2000s. In some ways, I have grown into embracing institutions and traditions that even Baby Boomers in their younger years spurned. In other ways, I feel like I would thrive better in some future generation where the U.S. has become the fourth or fifth most powerful country in the world in terms of both economy and military. Such generational specifics are, of course, mostly limited to Western culture and probably mostly white, middle and upper class culture, which is why I have come to think that this framework is rather limiting.
The better approach is really to constantly ask myself what I really need to take with me through the rest of my life. Do I need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the current professional sports landscape, or know all of the movies that received Oscar nominations over the past ten years, or be able to recite the words to any number of popular songs at the top of whatever chart is relevant these days? Do I even need to have a more intense and careful reading of the works of philosophers, historians and theologians, in order to help others in a pastoral setting?
I certainly don’t feel as if I need to have a lot of things. As far as stuff goes, my weakness has been books, and I am pretty convinced I will be getting rid of most of my books over the next few years.
In a perfect world where people have access to excellent healthcare and education, and nutritious and healthy food, what kinds of activities should these people be doing to make humanity into a better species? The model of being good consumers of products seems to be eroding. The ways in which people amuse and entertain themselves can only offer so much distraction before a person wants something more out of their existence.
This is one of the distinguishing characteristics of being a human–we are never satisfied with what we have. We know that there is more “out there” somewhere, but we are unable to grasp what that more actually consists of. For some time, having more simply meant working longer and harder in order to get a nice raise and bonus every year in order to buy another car, boat, vacation, or more stuff to add to your collection of stuff around the house. However, subsequent generations have seen the limits of more coming in the form of stuff. More must mean something else.
More of a career? A more rewarding job? A rewarding life doing something that doesn’t necessarily pay anything at all? More money as a hedge fund manager, but not necessarily more stuff–just money as a means of keeping score? More drugs, sex, partying? More video games, live bands, clothes, movies, sports…what?
A few follow down the path of abandoning the desire to accrue more of something and decide they have enough, or they find an outlet in service to others. More of helping others instead of helping yourself. But, at the end of the day, most people still want more out of life than they were able to obtain. Look at our President. The man is clearly unhappy with everything that has been given to him, everything he’s obtained or worked or fought or scammed to get–he seems unhappy even with being President. He desperately wants more of something, but he has no idea what that more is. He thinks it must be something material, or perhaps immortality in the form of an everlasting name he makes for himself. But, in his innermost self, he knows that this, too, will not be enough.
Is the trick to kill the desire for more? Is the best thing to do something along the lines of what Christ did–a self-emptying, or intentional turning on its head of this innate desire for more? Is a Buddhist approach best–stop seeing your self or ego as a unique or separate entity–once you remove your duality, you have everything because you are not setting up a false ego that is trying to accrue everything. These all sound quite nice, except they are much harder to put in practice than they are to more or less understand when you read about them.
And, if you are able to achieve some kind of enlightenment, self-emptying, non-duality or destruction of ego–what do you do next? Die? Wander the earth begging for alms? Sit around doing nothing? All of that seems to be an exceptional waste of a human who has just transcended the self.
Don’t get me wrong–I like the idea of removing all sense of the ego or self, getting rid of the desire to add more to the self, and ceasing to think that I need to be moving toward something because there is really nowhere to go. I’m already here. I’m already one with the earth. But, I still have to raise my son, and I am pretty sure my wife will expect me to do something after I get my degree.
I also love the idea of being able to send warm thoughts of unconditional love energy out to people and heal the world, without having to be anywhere near them. I wish I could put myself into a warm, lovey state of bliss, and never leave it. I still hope for a moment where I simply glow with radiance from having reached a pinnacle where all I can do is love the world no matter what it does to me. I just don’t know exactly how to get there.