Notes from a year of discipline and observation...

nature |ˈnā ch ər|
1 the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations 

The Question
As of today, refusing to seek conviction is no longer available to me. I have crossed a line in the sand from which I do not look back. Whether it represents age or a standalone incident which has altered my perspective, I see now differently than before. Maybe I see like it was before the line appeared when I didn’t question the after. Where we make such unintended impressions upon a world not equipped with the answer to our darkness, our mystery, our curiosity. To ask the question, the only one we are capable of asking, the question of identity is essential. It is the root to finding our direction and purpose. Before crossing the line there are many questions that matter, on the other side of the line all questions are the same. In my voyage to find an answer at the center of this I have attempted to return to the source of life, escaping the motivation and misconceptions of others. I have looked outside the indeterminable moral solutions. I believe religion as an attempt to solve such complexities has become lost in it's own determination to produce tangible solutions. It is the fault of the seeker who cries at a higher being for not proving itself which misses the entire quality of not knowing. There are so many things we must be comfortable not knowing before we cross the line. I admittedly have not explored the benefits of exercising a religious panacea in my search. Rather, to find what it is that one truly wants I was inclined to unplug external impulses that draw us to aim our concern in directions we would not otherwise be inclined to go. I veered away also from the magnetism and solutions of modern culture at large that will claim to be able to define us or that by becoming a part of it we will be able to define ourselves and most importantly escape suffering. Which is by no short measure the biggest lie mankind as a whole, allows itself. When I refer to culture at large, it is the city, the society, the human collection. Where you can find no shortage of answers to problems you don't have. Namely shoe socks and recreational drugs. Even these offers that on the surface appear to solve minuscule peripheral problems in our daily lives and help us escape temporary suffering actually tie into our greater fear of the unknown, the future, or our potential for change. By succumbing to this suggestion we are ironically giving up control via power via money to industries that profit and therefore survive on our fear and inability to define ourselves. We are also ignoring our potential for happiness harnessed within the very construction of self-knowledge and experience.

Perspective and Observation
I spent the last 9 months virtually alone. I socially removed myself from any pattern of relationship that began to grow past business purposes. I made no unsolicited calls to friends or family. I only saw one friend who arrived at my residence unannounced several times to bring me books or music CDs briefly at his own impulse. I did not travel to see my family or visit anyone on national holidays. I also did not announce my intentions at the outset, in order to remain in an impartial mental condition. During the many hours of lonesome weekends and endless moments of reflection I became what I have often seen myself as -- a discreet observer of the human experience. On any given day no single person knew if I moved about or became ill or won the lottery. It was negligible to the sincere human population. Living in this way emits such clarity of reflection that makes it effortless to see the footsteps of your own life and simultaneously put oneself in the 'shoes' of another being with a clear view of their perspective and their flaws. You are at once traveling as a lone soul in the night completely aware of your own paralysis and at the same instant innately connected to all life by an infinite sympathy for the human experience. Given the omission of circumstantial details only experienced in closer proximity to the subject it is difficult to draw conclusions from strictly a birds eye view of any situation. Nonetheless I believe this angle is valuable and becoming increasingly recherché in conversations regarding the subject of society. We seem to care more about the nitty-gritty details of an affair and less about how many times the same scam has made the front the page. This may be simply because we only care about the affairs which we know the details of and can therefore associate with the experience.
Admittedly, I did not lock myself in a cabin in Tibet, camp in a bear cave in Alaska, or physically remove myself from exposure to all other humans in some other way, so I do not claim to be a pure authority on the experience of physical solitude but rather a disengaged anthropologist within my own environment. Developing the critical eye with which to draw impartial conclusions from this place in life is like sorting an algorithm. I begin by assuming that many things are true about everyone which are true for myself, and that many things are true about myself by seeing that they are universal parallels in the world at large. In this way I attempt to maintain a balance of experiential and observational learning.

Fear and Happiness
To make sense of my observations within this time to myself I find it easier to begin with an assumption of some kind, a 'control' within this hypothetical human experiment. The assumption will be that we all want to be happy. Not necessarily a happiness within it’s typical birthday party zeal. It is a broader definition of happy in which there is something on each of our minds at any given moment that we are either trying to get, or achieve, or prevent... because we think it will make us somehow better than we are now or different, satisfied, important, defined, safe, unchanged, etc. etc. Some might also say that their titanic ship of potential happiness has already sunk and they are clinging to the last floating emblem of all its glory. Some of us don’t think we will ever be happy. Some of us think we need to be in control of our destinies to be happy. Others want to be in control but don't know how to be happy. Sometimes we make ourselves unhappy just so long as we have control. This is a contortion of nature’s first rule, self-preservation. It doesn't take a scientist to discover that as soon as a life exists, it tries to. The life force within it surges to be. Why else would an undeveloped mammal find it's mother's breasts and immediately seek to nurture or a plant’s cells grow in the direction of the sun? Life clings to us with severe impetus. It is a part of our equation which occasionally causes us to make ourselves unhappy in an attempt to maintain control of our circumstances and not fall victim to the roller coaster that life can often inflict. The tool that is used in self-preservation and is often the culprit when this backfires on us -- is fear.
Fear keeps us alive, fear makes us sweat when we meet a potential lover. Fear makes us blow it when trying to get something we really want. How easy is it to get something when you don’t care and have nothing vested in gaining it? Fear sometimes keeps us from reaching our potential. Fear can fill us with guilt or regret, and vice-versa. It stops us from loving people and making the world a better place. Sometimes it causes us to try and make the world a better place for those we love, or sometimes for someone we have never met. Donations to the needy in foreign countries, leaving extra metro tickets at the station, taking in stray animals. Here is where humans differ from the rest of the animal population, which reserves the use of fear. Compassion. By definition it is the ability of a person to feel sorry for just about anything; namely strangers and inanimate objects. Which is strange because in a completely natural world where survival of the fittest used to be essential, compassion appears to come in great conflict to the natural course of evolution. It appears to be a misplaced ability to take care of your own kind. It may be that this is what makes us human or dignified or both. The fact that a group of people won't put up with a 90-minute movie about a character if they have not been coaxed into sympathy is evidence enough. It is arguable that helping someone cross the street has it’s evolutionary advantage because we are taught that somehow that good deed could benefit us later through karma or some other good fortune. This does not explain the attraction people can have to inanimate objects such as stuffed animals, old finicky cars, and volleyballs named Wilson.

Projecting the Ego
We tend, in the modern world, to project our question outward rather than inward. Rather than sitting quietly for 10 minutes and reflecting on the state of personal troubles and our place in the world at large we search quickly for something that can distract us or charge our physical being with positive sensations. In the example of a film we identify with the characters in order to watch them live out their conflict so that we will feel better about our own struggle. By exporting our desires and ambitions to external influences we ignore a growing blank space within our personal mystery. This gap in the consciousness grows and becomes ego or insecurity, which unchecked may surface as masochism. We become so bent on the import of ideas and impulses and 'solutions', that we are confused at why we can't get a grasp on the real and eminent visceral experience. A state in which we begin to enjoy any pleasure, pain, or attention whatsoever directed towards I  - the blank space that is our ego. This stimulation becomes our only form of positive experience and begins to overwhelm our conscious awareness. Without it we live in a dull paralysis. This drives us to desire increasing stimulus. And when greater stimulus is explored the itch continues, as it is one that can not be scratched. Avoided for a long enough time this phenomenon in a persons life though seeming dangerous and thrilling to any neutral bystander will seem grey and monotonous to the one experiencing it as a norm. There is a condition derived as the aggregate of this affliction known as Anhedonia which displays such symptoms as the inability to experience pleasurable emotions from normally pleasurable life events such as eating, exercise, social interaction or sexual activities. This leads to contradictions in our experience that deny tendencies most commonly accepted by the social majority. Such as, the most beautiful people at a party being the most worried about how they look and often resulting in their experience being the most miserable. Ah! Happiness is not an appearance!
When we project our insecurities and import ideals from culture at large we are buying into an idea that there is something we are missing which we can find outside of ourselves. Something better than what we have and something attainable. Maybe an experience we haven't had or something that will make today less suffer-able by keeping the mind away from it's own mystery. My viewpoint is that this leads 90% of the time (if not all) to a worse state of being and 100% of the time to more suffering. For example one day I came home from work and saw a person out running. I was excited to get home and change and go running which I had not planned on doing in the morning. When I got home it was very warm in the house and there was a leftover tray of baklava sitting on the table. Suddenly I thought that I didn't feel like running. That it would be good to take a day off even though I might now feel bad about it. I thought that maybe it was a good night to go to that restaurant I just drove by because I envied the people enjoying a nice meal at sunset, or to go see that movie from the trailer still tickling the back of my mind or maybe do something better with a few evening hours rather than take a run. Something rebellious to express my freedom. In truth I didn't know what I wanted. All these thoughts were evoked from visions of lives I could be chasing. I thought I could do better then the disciplined, simple-minded, understated experience that I truly desire. A nice run, dinner and a show to wind me down. This life is a good one which allows time for the sadness to come and go and be a part of who I am, leaving me to grow and feel better the next day. I get everything I desire out of the day by not fighting my internal contradictions and insecurities but rather being in unison with my desire and my suffering and ultimately my question.

Journalism and Age
I have heard many people near my age speak about how their body is changing as they grow into their late 20’s and 30’s. How they can't go out and play a pickup game of anything without feeling something the next morning. They swear they can point out the month it all started going downhill. I generally feel a bit sorry for them and for myself at giving-in to this assumed arc in life. As if it is just a part of adulthood and we’ll never be young again. I think the catalyst for this change is much more self-inflicted... we are too organized. In the natural world things create defenses against other things by coming into contact with them at random. Antibiotics work in this way, by testing the bodies defenses partially so that it will learn to fight off a real infection. In the civilized, organized, concrete jungle we loose all sorts of defenses and skills gained through exposure because our entire lifestyles revolve around a system which is built to be a part of a functioning structure. The less chaos instilled into the structure the more efficiently it runs, therefore efficiency is a priority. When we were kids it was a priority to go outside and play because that was fun. Fun had value. Time had none.  Fitness or physical health came as a natural benefit of this fun, not to mention the psychological value of it. Now that we are in the working class, it is a priority to report to an office or workshop where we will solve problems so that we can get money to live and hopefully do some things we still think are fun. We are recruited to further organize the world into problems and solutions thus creating a demand for our labor. Journalists are a great example of this because they literally take the chaos of the world around us and make cohesive stories with conflicts, villains, and heroes out of events that take place. In this way we all feel like we must find our story and match it to the stories of others and therein find meaning and purpose and identity. “A common enemy unites us.”  Even when writing a paper for school we are taught at a very early age to create a thesis and form an argument by taking one side and defending it. Such a mentality teaches us that we must look for motivation before acting. It teaches us that we need a reason to go outside... a purpose... something to produce. “We worked to live, until we lived to work.” This need to make a statement with every gesture appears in strict objection to our natural tendency towards chaos or dare I say balance. In an increasingly predictable world (where the unanticipated accident can mean a multimillion dollar law suit) we have become culturally afraid of any unpredictable experience and therefore additionally any environment that caters to such. We have begun to loose touch with the conflicts that strengthen us by injuring us slightly. This is the key to health and exercise that so many people miss out on. By training at an easy level and then progressing slowly to greater difficulty we let our body heal the tiny tears in it’s muscle to become stronger for the next ‘conflict’. The most rewarding way to get this is by becoming a child again; climbing trees, running up and down hills, repeatedly - nonsensically - gloriously youthful.

Potential and Love
My year alone began the morning after I decided to quit. I found great opposition to this decision namely from a close friend and woke up to a miserably clear sunny (although mentally hazy) morning. I cleaned the blood from the kitchen floor and put on a long sleeve shirt. I made the only decision I had left. I knew immediately that there would be no feeling sorry for myself, no running from sadness into temporary pleasure, no action without contemplation. There would be only a grand attempt at understanding life and being everything that I can be. No more indecision. I decided that if I am to remain here I might as well do the best I can without wasting time. I had a desire to be simply mediocre in the everyday routine of life in order to find the reward of being content and becoming stronger and healthier everyday working towards the hope for something extraordinary.
While attempting to navigate the straightest possible route through discipline to my fullest potential I realized that I would sacrifice many 'half-hearts'. Things that I decide are not valuable investments of my potential. One of the greatest sacrifices I knew that I would make is love. The great potential. Something no one can define yet everybody wants. Something both elusive and permanent. I see people everyday making choices to give up on something they could have or be simply to run after the opportunity of love; to 'see’ about a girl or boy. I believe we desire this mere shadow of a possibility because it is a metaphor for our life. It makes us part of a story and lends us a door to identity. Unsure that you will amount to anything? Try love. Think you might waste your entire life on silly childish dreams? Try love. Want to make a name for yourself and your family? Try love. It is an assured way of feeling something in this life, being connected to others, confirming ones existence and birthing the potential for happiness. I don't believe that one cannot find happiness alone, but when I am by myself I can experience the greatest pain of a snake bite at Lake Castaic or the most fantastic euphoria of running in Hyde Park at 3 am and the next day or even a moment later I may not remember the feeling when it has gone and no one is there to remind me. The present is both fleeting and momentary. Alone, it is a great challenge for a person to navigate this pace and find rest in the choices one has made. “He spent six hours examining things, trying to find a difference from their appearance on the previous day in the hope of discovering in them some change that would reveal the passage of time... On Friday, before anyone arose, he watched the appearance of nature again until he did not have the slightest doubt but that it was Monday.” When people join together we affirm our existence. We refract each others emotion and make each other significant. The story is born when someone believes in it. The story becomes a something when several people believe in it. How much easier is it to suffer when someone next to you can say that they too are knee-deep in the muck, battling brush and stone, charging head first into the current?

The Answer
The only thing constant about this life, is change. It is an ongoing adventure. Which may be the only sustained answer I have found to my question. From cells that split and replace our skin every 14 days to planet earth spiraling slowly towards the sun, in every breath we are change. The moment you have it all figured out, you have become something else. The roots have become deeper or have dried out and cast seed into the wind of potential. Even the tree that stays for hundreds of years experiences the current of time. To stand up and feel the light passing through without grasping at waves takes hope. A friend often tells me that we don’t get to choose the people we will be with. Jobs, degrees, and dreams carry us to different timezones and opens chests of experiences that will become part of who we are. Saying goodbye is like listening to your favorite song for the last time, and yet somewhere deep inside we know it is a part of breathing. After all that, it is the familiarity of great friendship that will keep us rooted to ourselves.

and the years roll on;
the wind still howls,
snow still falls,
and fire still burns.
yet, everything has changed.