When feeling (not thinking) is the point
Joseph Campbell, Ray Bradbury and seeking a human experience
Why did famed poet Edgar Allen Poe once say, “To be happy at any one point we must have suffered at the same. Never to suffer would have been never to have been blessed”? This quote was thrown up on the screen at the beginning of a recent episode of the hit survivalist series, Alone (Season 9 on Netflix). These people go out into the woods for a last-man-standing competition of living on nothing but what they can catch/kill, and with only the protection of shelter that they build from nothing. They suffer immensely, but almost all of them are delighted the entire time.
So often in the show, contestants will look out at the beautiful wilderness where they’ve been dumped and share just how grateful they are to be there. Their ribcages are starting to show, and their muscles ache, but so many of them will still proclaim loudly, “I’m alive!”
I’m going to attempt tying a bunch of seemingly threads together — because a few different stories are all starting to connect in my mind this morning.
Feeling something, anything
I was thinking over coffee today about my friends from high school, and why so many of them were “cutters”. We were the kids in black who would wear chains and shop Hot Topic. Our coolness was beyond measure!
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I never cut, as I wasn’t depressed or struggling in that way. But I remember what they’d talk about regarding the shared habit of self-harm. According to some of them, it was all about “feeling something”…which I didn’t understand and don’t fully to this day. I’m of the belief now that it was just as much a social contagion, or a rite of passage within a small group, as it was a true expression of despair. I’m unsure.
But I do know today that depression and improper balances of mood-altering medication can make people dealing with mood disorders feel dead inside. Like the lights are completely off. Numb. I still love all of those people today, though not all of them are still with us.
The emotions I still feel about that time of my life are profoundly confusing, even upsetting. Crafting the sentence you just read brought about rare tears, and I don’t why. Perhaps Edgar Allan Poe understands.
We want to be alive
Some will say that human beings are in search of “the meaning of life” and while that may be true for a certain subset of academics and big thinkers, that might not be the case for the majority. One academic whom all readers of This Is The Way should recognize is Joseph Campbell (the man behind the concept of the Hero’s Journey). In a dialogue with journalist Bill Moyers, he was asked about the meaning of life and responded:
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
Can you relate? I certainly can. It’s what drives my newfound love of rock climbing, ascending frightening heights, and in some cases dangling upside down. I get to experience the sensation of a brush with death, but with ropes and the steady hands of a partner keeping me safe. That’s the only way to describe why I do it. It quiets my busy mind, and I can only be focused on the experience if I’m going to climb successfully.
Maybe you have something like that in your life?
But writing involves this also. Safe at my desk, I’ll have ideas that I want to put into words. As I’m typing, I’m conversing with myself about the story I’m telling you, and in subtle ways, I’ll sanitize the feelings I feel with the power of reason. I hesitated greatly to mention my high school friendships because it was messy and still doesn't make sense to me. A writer will have a feeling that washes over them and they’ll bristle at its irrationality. The prolific author Ray Bradbury once spoke to this, calling intellect a “danger to creativity.” When you’re at the typewriter, Bradbury says, “You should be living — not thinking.”
What are you overthinking today?
Can you put your intellect in check so that creative work and expression can have their moment? I have told you in the past that feelings are not to be trusted, and I believe that very much, but remember Aristotle’s “Golden Mean"… all things in moderation.
This weekend let’s all go out and live. Send us an email or leave a comment about what you do, or what you experience.
After all, as I began with the words of Edgar Allen Poe on suffering, our experiences of “being alive” might be things we didn’t choose. They might be painful things.
But we do choose how we respond. That’s a human experience.
This is the way.
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There will be a new episode posted before the weekend begins, all about courage and the trickiness of truth-telling.