Reflections on October 10, 2022

I’m working from the second bedroom today. I think being in the presence of a mess makes it substantially easier to clean it up. We’re talking about moving soon, and I feel like if left unchecked, we would fill every bit of available space, regardless of whether we need it. Especially with more rooms - rooms which might easily escape the gaze while working, sleeping, or eating - they would inevitably become storage units for clothes and hobbies, forgotten. At least that is my guess, if I don’t get my act together.

One thing I’m realizing now is that if I force myself to exist in these spaces, I will find one or two things that I keep noticing. Today, it was a bit of packaging on the floor that I’ve walked over or on countless times. Today, I finally picked it up and threw it away. And while it had basically no effect on the overall feeling of messiness in the room, it triggered me to keep going. A big pile of clothes feels insurmountable - then I fold one piece, and stop being so invested in the “finishing” of the task. I become more invested in small, but consistent improvement.

This feeling has pervaded my life in what feels like the distant past (though it really wasn’t long ago) - I’ve been in that super-mindful flow state for weeks at a time, where everything fits together nicely. Diet, exercise, organization, productivity, work, and education all coincide to create a perfect harmony with a trend of constant and consistent improvement.

But then that disappears, and all that remains is the memory of having been a person who had it together more than I do right now.

Granted, I’ve learned a lot. I feel that generally, I am more well-equipped for the path ahead than I have been before. But it also feels like in the not-so-distant past, I was better equipped in other ways (e.g. I was more driven, vocal, and motivated). As for ways in which I have improved, my sense of pride is lower, I am less concerned with what other people think, and I seem now to be able to find a silver lining in darkness and suffering that I was not able to see before. This inability to glimpse a reflection of beauty and justice in the injustice that pervades our material world would debilitate me in the past. A thought of injustice would enter the door easily, and ravage any semblance of organization and peace in my life. It would result in anger, at myself and others, nihlism, and a tempting desire to give in to the abyss - whether in the form of the selfish and arrogant pursuit of my own pleasure, or otherwise in the form of an idea that it would be nice to no longer be conscious - forever.

I can’t say that these thoughts and temptations have ever completely gone away since my first encounter with them, but I have certainly found a way to better contextualize them to myself, and to improve in ways that are healthier for me and others in the long term. I am still quite harsh and critical of myself, but I have learned how to avoid directing this at others, especially when I have not yet acheived mastery over myself. I have been entrusted (rightfully or not) with a level of influence over others that I have still not come to terms with, and the fear of being guilty of hypocrisy is often on my mind.

So what to do when you are sufficiently knowledgeable to know what habits are good for you and bad for you, but you feel stuck attempting to manifest this knowledge in your words and actions? What do you do when you’ve quit an old addiction and it resurfaces, worse than before? These are the thoughts that come to me as I sit on the bed in this messy room. The mess is notably reduced now - the clothes are organized into folded piles, there is no months-old trash as far as I can tell, and my cat Elsie is laying next to me giving herself a bath on the newly-cleared bed space. Cleaning is easy. Reciting platitudes is easy. Coming up with ideas and ambitions is easy. Learning is easy. And yet none of these touch on some core part of me that is holding me back. My life is not consistent with what I claim to believe - what I would like to believe. These beliefs feel as genuine as the air I breathe, yet how can one claim to believe something without moving in a direction that is consistent with that so-called “belief”?

Of course, there are some evolutionary/biological realities to be confronted here. I suspect that the pain of losing my own mother would be incomparable to the pain and sympathy I feel towards someone else who experiences the same. And yet, under rational analysis, we can conclude that there is nothing inherently more tragic about my mother dying than another’s, all other things being equal.

For a less morbid (and tangential) thought, which I intend to connect with the previous one, there have been cases where I had problematic behavior patterns over extended periods of time. And I was even able to recognize these situations with the corresponding feelings of “that wasn’t good, I should avoid doing that in the future”. And yet, time and time again, I would not actually change my behavior “for good” until I experienced external negative consequences or confrontation regarding the behavior.

How are these seemingly disparate thoughts related? I know of injustice in the world. It is not hard to find. I know there are tragic events going on (in my own geographic region as well as outside of it) that I could play some small role in alleviating, beyond the simple allocation of a portion of the wealth which I have been entrusted with. I know that the impetus for a change in my lifestyle must come from within. I cannot rely on someone to correct my internal direction the way I can expect them to point out a behavioral flaw of mine. I learned the hard way that no human in my life will adequately hold me accountable to do what I see as my obligation to better the world and deepen my emotional connection to events outside my direct sphere of influence.

Words like “stress”, “anxiety”, and “depression” prompt responses such as “you deserve a break”, “don’t be too hard on yourself”, and “are you going to a therapist and/or taking medication?”. However, the motivation and effort exerted to improve myself based on these inevitable feelings rests on my own shoulders. Maybe others can call me out for injustices I commit or my direct actions, but only I am able to steer my internal world towards beauty. It feels counter-intuitive in some ways. To me, a beautiful person would be able to feel the pain of the suffering one, even when not connected by blood ties, distance, nationality, or worldview. This beautiful human would seek justice, even at the expense of their own relationships. How can one reach this point without first mining into the dark depths of the historic, present, and future human experience, in order to gain knowledge about how to perfect oneself and the surrounding world? This “mining” was exactly what pushed me into the abyss in the first place. It made me certain that true justice has not ever existed, and could not ever exist.

But are fantasy and reality not intertwined? What makes the material world any more “real” than our aspirations? Must something be materially or sociologically observable in order for a fundamental, intangible idea to be real? A perfect circle does not exist in the material world, but that does not make the concept of a perfect circle un-real, and it does not prevent us from attempting to depict the essence of a perfect circle. And I feel that the same can be said for virtues such as justice. My belief is that, even in the face of insurmountable injustice, “true justice” is still real. It exists, is divine, can be elusive, and conscious beings should strive to acheive it to the best of their abilities. This belief, which is entirely based in faith and is not something I think could ever be empirically proven, has illuminated for me the darkness that pervades the study of history, geopolitics, genocide, natural disasters, and countless other topics of varying scale. One other important facet of my belief is that “true justice” is inevitable. I do not believe that I, or anyone else, will escape the consequences of the things we do, even after death. I understand that many readers might take issue with this, but considering that this belief has been fundamental in coming to terms with my role in this short life, I thought that I should mention it. Perhaps you have found some way to alleviate the despair and depression in a way that is not dependent on some idea of divine justice, but that still allows you to engage healthily and selflessly with the world. If this is the case, I would be interested in hearing from you. I can’t say I am likely to change my position, but it is still important for me to try and understand others, and accept criticism towards my own beliefs and thoughts.

And so, with my perception of divine justice vs. perceived justice in the material world, a more nefarious opponent than despair enters the picture. And that is complacency. In fact, my despair in the past was partially fueled by this complacency, which I saw within myself and those around me. At the time, this was easy enough to blame on capitalism and imperialism, but I think complacency is something much more universal. Capitalism and imperialism play a role, but they are simply a new manifestation of time-tested “human experience”, and reflections of the same injustice can be seen at any point in human history.

Indeed, I find it far easier and more fun to watch TV or read a feel-good novel than to deeply reflect on my self and force myself to learn about the world around me. One of those things feels easy and good, and the other feels difficult and depressing. But what is more depressing - an individual who dedicates every fiber of their being to goodness, even if that means sacrifice (of time, money, attention, etc…), or a society where everyone is so caught up in their own entertainment that no one is willing to sacrifice simple pleasures even though it might be fundamentally necessary for justice??

How will I feel when held to account for the countless hours I’ve wasted doing things that are widely mislabeled as “self care”? Idling my time away has only ever temporarily alleviated the despair, and for me, it tends to pile more despair on over time. It is only by learning about the world, feeling pain, and adjusting my lifestyle accordingly which has improved things for me. May God protect me from valuing my own transient comfort above the comfort of those upon whom tragedy has fallen.

One of my aunts has struggled with cancer for a long time. As far as I know, it’s something the family has known about since I was a child. Or at least, I don’t have any clear memories of when I learned this information. Anyway, after a decades-long battle, her condition deteriorated significantly a couple weeks ago. Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with her one last time on a video call. I was at a loss for what to say, but in retrospect it seemed totally unnecessary. This woman - who had a condition where the primary symptom is “pain” - who was experiencing her final days in the presence of her own mother, still alive - exuded luminosity and beauty. In fact, the primary message she conveyed on that final day of hers over a video call to me, my wife, and my sister, was to “keep the light shining”, with a warm smile. And it truly felt like she was passing the baton. Like many others in her family legacy, she left an undeniable fingerprint on this world - a Fatima-shaped fingerprint. And this causes reflection in me. I pray that one day, when I am on my death bed, that the same luminosity emits from me and my past actions. I can’t keep making the same mistakes over and over. I have knowledge to acquire, sacrifices to make, empathy to cultivate, and a life to make meaningful.

I don’t really know who (if anyone) reads this, but if you are interested in responding, feel free to email me at