Somewhere in my mid twenties, I faced the realisation that death was not only going to happen, but that it was going to happen much, much faster than I had previously anticipated. I was stuck in a modern, early-life, existential crisis. My journal entries from this time always end, “Do your pushups Travis”, referencing the anti-hero from the classic Scorsese film, Taxi Driver.
All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people.
At the same time I was reading a lot of eastern philosophy, Chung Tzu and Musashi. The great minds of the early eastern traditions all seemed to understand that ‘flow’ is something that exists outside of the constraints of intellectual reasoning and frameworks. Life is like a dance, a wave moving across the ocean or perhaps the cliche floating shopping bag from An American Beauty.
Reading from the Hagakure (A guidebook for Japanese Samurai), a warrior is asked to meditate on the worst possible death daily on awakening:
Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease… And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.
This is not a morbid meditation, in fact, the opposite. The idea is to both become at ease with its impending reality and also instil a tangible sense of urgency in all worldly matters. When you are at peace with the thought of a madman slicing you to death in line at the post office, the rest of the day seems like a breeze. Now, I do not wake up every day and meditate on death, but I do keep with me at all times the idea that our entire existence is, at its core, random and completely insane. We take ourselves so seriously and get so caught up in our lives that we forget just how bizarre and unlikely they really are.
A lot of us find a deep fear and unease in the face of a random, chaotic life with no ‘why’ at its core. We seek meaning and order and love to explain away our shortcomings on external circumstance and fate. But, given the hands we were dealt, our choices are bound only by our imagination and propensity for change. Our (western) modern industrial society has been built on the backbone of labour. Our education systems are largely structured to turn out well-behaved replicas, obedient humans that dream small and work hard. Imagination is largely frowned upon outside of primary school and art class. When we are young our parents tell us we can do ‘whatever’ we want in this world, yet as we grow that universe of opportunity tends to get boxed into a small selection of safe, financially rewarding careers and a more traditional, conservative existence.
But this is madness.
We are the luckiest people in the most prosperous, advantage filled time in human history. We have the power of the gods at our fingertips and the globe on our doorstep. When someone tells me that they are bored, I have no words. It displays a gross lack of imagination and drive. Fuelled with the knowledge that as far as we know we only have one crack at this experience, why are we so content to just ‘get by’? Why are our dreams limited to a yearly holiday, a new piece of technology, finishing work so we can watch the next episode of…?
They love to tell us that the unemployment rate is rising, interest rates are high, the threat of global war is imminent, that X is your enemy and the reason things are not as good for you as they could be. This is all a distraction. It means nothing. Opportunities are infinite and humans are just humans wherever you go, with the same hopes and failed dreams.
There is nothing holding us back from living incredible, mind-bendingly creative and enriching lives, except ourselves. The excuses we make daily to justify our plight are nothing but that. There is no time to be bored, there is too much out there to experience and an insane planet floating in an infinite sea of stars to explore.
We would be fools not to write our own future.