“The Tao which can be expressed in words is not the eternal Tao.” – Lao Tzu, 6th Century B.C crazy person.
“I don’t know anything with certainty, but seeing the stars makes me dream.” – Vincent Van Gogh, famous ear surgeon.
“We dont know one-millionth of one percent about anything.” – Thomas Edison, famous plagiarizer of celibate Austrian scientists.
A girl once asked me to describe myself in one sentence. I think it was a test of some sort. I said I was a wanderer, and I still don’t know if I passed the test.
Regardless, the exercise is interesting. You’ll hear this sort of thing asked at job interviews as well. Describe yourself in a single sentence. We love so much to simplify an entire person in to a bunch of words because it helps us fit that person into our world model, which is also just a bunch of words.
But words will never measure up. No matter how great your vocabulary, we are bigger than the words used to describe us, bigger than mental constructs. We will always squeeze and bloat through the cracks of the box a word tries to fit us in. Though incredibly useful, words can often be limiting.
Imagine, if you will, a marble sculpture of the human form, perfectly chiseled and glistening. Then imagine a large white box of roughly the same size upon which someone has scribbled, with a marker, “head, torso, arms, legs”, and so on, in the appropriate anatomical places. On one side you have a sculpture, and on the other, a large box with words on it.
This is the difference between absolute reality and our perception of reality.
“To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet. To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-systems and implicit philosophies which we call languages.” – Aldous Huxley, famous drug abuser.
And so we build these boxes all around us, starting from a very young age. The process is so slow, so natural, that we forget that we are trapped. Safe and snug we remain inside our boxes, like cats. Every one does this, but the great trick is that no one is aware of it; we all think we are observing the statue in its entirety while everyone else makes boxes. Ha ha, stupid people can’t see the truth, we say smugly to ourselves. Most pompousness and chest thumping is a consequence of this inadvertent hypocrisy.
For the longest time I was cool being a box-builder, borrowing tools and templates from elders and society at large. But maybe I’m not a very good box builder, because the world that I found myself in was one which I didn’t quite like. The rules seemed arbitrary, forced, contrived, for that is exactly what they are. More than anything I couldn’t help but wonder what all I was missing by living in this little boxworld, what wonders I had denied myself only to keep my ass safe from the harsh truths of existence.
So then came stage 2: the total destruction of the boxes, a rejection of boxworld. The disintegration of mental models, fighting against all ‘truths’ that I had taken for granted, losing myself to the chaos. This stage is still ongoing.
And now I’m finally starting to get a glimpse of stage 3. A stage where reality, in all its awful glory has started to become visible to me in little flashes. I see the boxes for what they are, and I use them for what they are, but they remain expendable, like so many hats to be worn and discarded as required. It’s much more fun to be an animal in the wilderness, barking at trees and howling at the moon, than a box-drone, doing what you are told with the placid smile of false comfort plastered on your face, maintaining a strict tunnel-vision view of reality because it feels safer that way.
I have lost myself, or to be more specific I have lost the dress-shirty well spoken shareef larka obey-the-rules version of myself. And in the process I am coming closer and closer to finding out who I really am.
Let’s play a game. You are the scientist and you are the guinea pig, and the mission is to lose yourself. The following are a bunch of experiments to aid that cause.
- For starters, answer the following question: how would you define yourself in a single sentence?
Define yourself as male/female/engineer/doctor/democrat/Taher Shah fan/any terrestrial labels of choice.
Define yourself as your hopes and dreams, your intelligence, your imagination, your appointed purpose on this planet, your inevitable marriage to Natalie Portman/Thor guy.
Define yourself as the transient physical manifestation of energy, as atoms, protons, electrons, quantum ‘particles’, meticulously arranged, zappin’ and buzzin’ in a matrix of energy fields mutually interacting with one another.
Define yourself as a finite, time-bound carbon and water based biological creature, eating smaller biological creatures and pooping them out as noxious waste, seeking desperately to propagate your species, the as-yet final product of a process of evolution which has been taking place for more time than you can fathom.
Define yourself as the denizen of a colonized little rock floating around an inconsequential star on the outer edge of an inconsequential galaxy in a vast and impossibly large universe.
Realize that you are all and none of these definitions. Realize that you have no fucking clue about what you really are.
If you don’t know what you are, how can you know anything about the world around you?!
Time to destroy them boxes.
- Think of your likes and dislikes, label yourself as someone who, for example, ‘loves rap music’ or ‘hates waking up early’. Then do the exact opposite. Find reasons why rap music sucks. Wake up at the crack of dawn and watch the sun rise for a whole week.
- If you are conservative ‘by nature’, think like a wild and reckless animal for an hour a day. If you are wild and reckless ‘by nature’, think like a cautious, conservative person for an hour a day.
- If you are shy in public, go to a crowded place and scream as loud as you can. People will stare at you, but the world won’t end. If this sounds like suicide, at the very least go up to random people and start talking to them. Wear something utterly ridiculous. Let people laugh at you.
- There is this guy at the Uni where I work who, each time he sees me, gasps, touches my feet, bows before me, and asks me to bless him because he is my most humble servant. All because I’m Syed. That word means a ridiculous amount to that man. He has a Syed box in which he has placed me, entirely oblivious to the fact that I am one of the least qualified people to bestow any manner of religious blessings upon anyone. But I am forced to fight through the embarrassment and play along, lest I destroy his box models.
The next time you interact with a person and find yourself applying labels to them, like ‘shareef’, ‘liberal’, ‘maila’, ‘khoobsoorat’, or whatever, and then modifying your behavior to interact with that label rather than the biological entity in front of you, stop yourself. Find ten other labels about the same person, and see how each one changes your behavior. Label that person as simply ‘a fellow human,’ and see how that changes your behavior.
- If you believe strongly in Islam or Christianity or Judaism or Atheism, temporarily take up an opposing belief. Educate yourself. Build a case against your faith.
- If you believe strongly in something like Marxism or Capitalism or democracy, imagine life without those things. Embrace the exact opposite of those beliefs, and build a case against yourself.
- If you hate someone, do something incredibly kind for them. And then move on with your life.
- Meditate over all the evil that exists in the world. Then meditate on all the good. Realize that there is more good happening at any given moment than evil – MUCH MORE ! – and find evidence from your daily life to prove this.
- Meditate/pray/exercise/do yoga daily. Silence your mind and watch how your identity changes. Watch the traits which you long thought fixed parts of your personality melt away.
- Respond to anything you are told with “yes, but…” and then use your head to come up with valid counterarguments. Even if you agree with what is being said. Don’t overdo it or you will lose all friends.
- Go out in nature and start looking at everything in terms of negative space; instead of trees and grass and ground, observe the spaces in between.
- Go out in nature and try to count all the shades of green that you see. Then try to count all the leaves. Then try to count all the plants. Then try to label things as ‘trees’, ‘bushes’, ‘grass’, ‘wind’. Then stop counting and labeling and take it all in at the same time without focusing on any one thing.
- Exercise your peripheral vision daily. Take in all the visual information without focusing on any one thing. Including this computer screen.
- Play with little children as often as you can. Let them lead. Those little bastards remember ancient truths which the rest of us have long forgotten.
- Spend a day lying shamelessly through your teeth to anyone you meet. Then spend a day being completely, brutally, honest. Learn how important both qualities are.
- Get really, truly, mind-numbingly, forget-who-you-are stoned at least once in your life.
- Look closely at the following picture:
That is what your eye really looks like. At that level of magnification at least. Zoom in further and it will look even stranger. Meditate on what else is going on around you that you simply can not see, or choose not to, since you are so caught up in your boxes.
- Define yourself as Pakistani. Imagine the boundaries on the ground that make this fact true. Then realize that 66 years ago those boundaries did not exist, and you were Indian. Then realize that a few thousand years ago those boundaries did not exist either, and you were member of a tribe. Then realize that a hundred thousand years ago the tribe did not exist, and you were simply an Earthling.
Imagine, like John Lennon said, that there were no countries, no invisible lines on the map. Imagine there was no homeland to provide you with a convenient identity. How would you define yourself then?
- Be completely comfortable saying “I don’t know.” Because you don’t.
“I know that I don’t know anything, but the others don’t even know that” – Socrates, famous village idiot.
- Learn about mind control, about media, about television, about advertising, and how they attempt to provide you with convenient little thought boxes to get you to buy shit and behave in certain ways. Understand that the more you associate with thought-boxes, the easier you are to control.
- If a little voice in your head tells you anything about yourself in absolute terms, make it a mission to prove that voice wrong. You will be surprised at how often you have fooled yourself into believing things that have no basis in reality.
And so it goes. I wonder if this post will make sense to anyone, given that the only way to express this thought is through words, of which I am but an average wielder at best (especially when stoned, as is the present case). But I really believe that we need to recognize the boxes we build around ourselves as being nothing more than mental projections applied upon an unfathomable reality. People would be less shitty to each other if they realized that we are all in this together, lost and wandering, no better or worse than the next human being, our boxes no more or less the absolute truth than theirs.
I am trying every day to challenge my hard-held beliefs, to break through boxes, both my own and those imposed upon me by society. I have no idea where this will lead (straight to the loony-bin, some would say), but the process is quite liberating. Reality is a wretched bitch, cold and overwhelming, yet beautiful beyond belief, and the few glimpses she has offered me of herself have left me spellbound. No box will do anymore, I choose instead to remain naked and exposed and let the show play out how it will.
Does this mean anarchy, hedonism, chaos? Far from it. It just means acknowledging the puppet show. And the strings. And the invisible hands behind the curtain. It means being humble enough to, like Socrates, be comfortable accepting both my utter insignificance and my paramount significance in it all. It means being satisfied being an idiot.
In sum, this is some pretty potent hashish.
“It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us, any of us, but if that is so then let us set up a last agonizing, bloodcurdling howl, a screech of defiance, a war whoop! Away with lamentation! Away with elegies and dirges! Away with biographies and histories, and libraries and museums! Let the dead eat the dead. Let us living ones dance about the rim of the crater, a last expiring dance. But a dance!” - Henry Miller, dead guy.