I Think Too Goddamn Much!

Allan

I have a problem. And considering the way I acted when I was younger, I find it’s strange that it’s the one that plagues me most as I’ve gotten older. When I was young I’d do something shit stupid and my dad would ask me about the repercussions of what I’d done. I would start to answer, “Well, I didn’t think-.” He would cut me off. “Exactly! You didn’t think.” Herein lay my youthful problem: action without forethought.

Now a few days have gone by. I’m roughly thirty and perhaps because of my obsessive worry about not thinking enough when I was younger, I am now cursed with the exact reverse. I think to goddamn much! No action is done without weighing first all the multitude of outcomes. Any moral act is beaten to death with a stick long after it should be put to rest. I wanted to buy a car recently on a modest budget and only realized around consulting in great depth with the fifth or sixth person that I was treating the whole thing like marriage proposal. It’s a special kind of hell. My spontaneous self left strangled and beaten to a pulp.

A strong desire to believe that we can change has shaped a great deal of my recent life. I’ve sought out wise people for advice and found them in our history either in books or lectures. My favourite is Allan Watts. He’s the 1970’s guru (although he would hate to be called that) who popularized Eastern philosophy in the west. I like him so much because of the academics I could find, he speaks directly at the topic as opposed to around it. I say this because I’ve found books on neuroplasticity touch on the subject but don’t really get into the meat of it. Not to say you shouldn’t read these either they’re amazing for their own reasons.

Anyways. Why is Allan Watts such a good resource for the topic? I’ve found his strength is two-fold. You have on the one hand his great research background on Eastern philosophy that gives him something to talk about. On the other, and surprisingly the most potent, he talks! His lectures can be found all over Youtube.

Listening to him, as much as I found what he has to say was incredibly enriching in terms of its educational value, it was the timbre and sonorous quality of his voice as he spoke that provided me with the most peace. One of the primary virtues he espouses when trying to escape our obsession with control and over-thinking is that we would simply experience the here and now more. Something modern therapeutic meditation might call “mindfulness”. There is a big problem with it though. If your goal is to become lost in a moment of immediate experience you’ll quickly defeat yourself by “thinking” far far to much about getting lost in the moment. A sort of cyclical disaster.

Explosion

Watts warns about this and says if your intention is to calm and clear the mind do not go about doing so by demanding of your inner thoughts that they should leave. He says this has the same effect as trying to calm disturbed water with a flat-iron (an expression I love dearly). Instead he suggests observing your thoughts. Allow them to enter your mind and become aware of them. In this way you allow all the conflicting repressed garbage demanding your attention to take its turn and then clear. I’ve heard others describe it as watching cars pass on the road. Each car is a thought and you observe them as they come. This accommodating non combative method, I’ve found, truly does yield results.

And that is why I discovered it was less the content of Allan’s speeches that mattered to me and more his tone. This is because it was his extremely enjoyable tone, which after I observed the points he made, made me forget I was observing them at all. I forgot because I enjoyed the experience of his voice so much, to think about what he was saying. Hallelujah. I defeated the cycle not because I had learned so much about what exactly I should bend my will to accomplish. I simply enjoyed so much what I was doing, I forgot to think about it.

And that is what I have learned about how to calm my mind and do at least something to absolve this most assiduous cancer of over-thinking. Do something I love. Do anything that I become so involved in I forget who I am, what I care about, what I (imagine) matters. In doing so I am free. I actually have a bit of a chuckle to myself when I think how often I have hated the idea of someone being a couch potato and mindlessly watching television. I understand now the need for such an escape. Constant reflection is as unhealthy as no reflection at all. We need to disconnect. We must. Living in this world with its infinite information to consider is something which can poison an overactive mind.

So this is my advice to you reader. You who by some fascinating twist of the universe’s superpositions made it to my writing and took the time and gave it the honour of your attention. Minus all the mumbo-jumbo about meditation and mindfulness, if you find yourself in a similar situation to myself: where even feeding the cat becomes the greatest existential moral dilemma of your life. Let go and find something you simply enjoy, something you really really enjoy. You will forget the illusion of (I). You will become more what you truly are: an experience.

Til Death Do Us Part: How Modern Marriage Has Failed

sitting_te

Marriage, the word is a demonstration of our language’s ability to evoke and provoke some of the strongest emotions possible. These range from the worshipful to cynical. It is simultaneously sought after and hated, not uncommonly by the same person. Is it broken? Was it ever right? I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately. I find myself at that time in my life (early thirties) where those inevitable questions start to arise, as though I perceive a door slowly closing. It’s my conclusion, after a good deal of thought, that I’ve been fooled, we’ve all been bamboozled, tricked, whatever you want to call it, into thinking that the oft referred to (holy) institution of marriage is something we should care and obsess over.

Let’s dig into this where I enjoy it most: its history. Marriage has not always been interpreted through its current incarnation. Now what do I mean by that exactly? Well most obviously would be this idea of marriage for eternal love. This modern consideration is an incredibly recent advent. Marriage in the not so distant past was carried out pragmatically: for family interests. The mewling protests of those involved, should there be any, were silenced quickly as selfish prattle that had better shut the hell up, or risk the wrath of their elders, and when I think about it, rightly so. Life and survival are difficult enough in an old world without youth bemoaning that they don’t get to love the person they are with. We’d have been far better off if marriage were actually referred to for what it was at its inception: duty.

But we are a forward thinking species. How dare the wisdom of the old be inflicted on the young. Better we let them decide who they should marry, and then divorce shortly after. This has led us to marriage’s current state. The mass majority of marriages end, it’s indefensible to suggest otherwise. Growing up my parents were in the absolute minority that they remained together through my youth. Their staying together was the exception not the rule.

Which leads me to my next point: the language of modern marriage in its aftermath. Having moved away from the more ancient form of marriage, we have landed ourselves in an existential hell. We’ve exchanged the mild grumbling of a couple learning to be with each other for the impossible ideal of eternal love. We even hold this lofty standard so high above our heads that if a marriage were to fail in this context we have no shortage of cruel descriptors for it: broken home and failed marriage leap to mind. We describe something so obviously natural—the falling out of love of those together for an extended period of time—as something abhorrent, hateful, and shameful. This I believe is madness.

Life in the last hundred years has changed so rapidly when compared to the previous it has left our older social constructs outdated and staggered, barely able to bear the weight of keeping up. I think fondly on my father’s joking description of the problem, “When they said till death do us part, that’s what it used to mean!” This albeit dark humour summarizes what I am trying to say. A progressive step was needed to reinvent the dated survival-style of marriage, but caught up in our solipsist view of the world we failed to see that we’d set out for ourselves an impossible standard. Couples rejoiced at the idea of marriage for eternal love, but soon found the reality was not quite what they imagined. It never is.

Now I’m not suggesting a return to the old style. We do live in a time when choosing who we wish to partner with is a luxury we can more or less afford. What I am suggesting is that we face a more difficult reality: we live long enough to have deep meaningful relationships with multiple people, and should allow ourselves to do so.

I’ll anticipate the soft soul’s argument who will cry, “What about the children? You blind fool,” and say this: we can, and already do, leave behind marriages with children yet to grow. All I’m suggesting is if we do so, let’s do away with all the weight of this crazy guilt. Good parents exist, lots of them, who are not in “wedlock,” another great term I enjoy. As long-lived human beings whose lifespans are continually stretching we must throw off the shackles that the ideal of eternal love has bound us in. We need a new love renaissance, one that correctly acknowledges both our strengths and weaknesses: Yes we can love, yes we fall out of love, there is no one single love of your life, there are many.

I cannot help but relate this to a series of books written by one of my favourite authors ‘Peter F. Hamilton.’ In his wild sci-fi imaginings he’s created a world wherein people can potentially live forever. Not only that, he considers the profound social repercussions of this world. The obvious question that comes about from eternal life is: do I eternally marry? He would suggest no. Instead, people spend as much time as they want with each other. Some raise children, some don’t. The norm of the citizens that inhabit his world is to marry many over the hundreds of years that they are alive. This to me seems natural.

And before those dissenters start screeching at the computer screen, allow me to clarify what I mean by natural. Natural is the world we have grown up in. I’ll borrow from ‘Aubrey de Grey’ to clarify what I mean. When people object to his suggestion—that we should be able to live forever—and say it is unnatural to have such long life-spans, he immediately counters with a very sound argument. When you say natural, whose natural do you mean? If you had grown up in the colonial era a natural life-span was far less than it is now. Eighty to a hundred is the natural life-span if you were born in recent memory. To cement what I am saying vicariously through Aubrey’s point: “natural” changes depending on where you are looking at it from. In effect, it is always changing given your perspective. And that is now what we need for marriage and the way we pursue it. A new perspective.

Chapter.3 Sins of the Father

The door slammed shut and the two siblings bounced down the steps. Books shifting in their backpacks, smacking their shoulders as they descended. Rushing away from the front door of the Victorian-style manor house, Daniel’s body shook with adrenaline. He would have stayed and defied Grant’s threat if not for the pleading of his mother that they go. The pair walked in hurried silence for three blocks before Kate spoke.

“That was brave of you.” She looked at Daniel intently and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder before speaking again. “To stand up to him.”

Daniel rubbed at his throat. “Lincoln better be there when we get back.”

“I have a feeling he will. Grant won’t want to go through the effort of returning him himself and Mom will refuse to do it.”

“Yeah,” said Daniel, “he’ll just be a pain about it the whole time now won’t he?”

“Is he ever not?” said Kate, looking down at her shoes as they walked.

That made him smile. “No, he isn’t.” Kate could be such a comfort. Like him, melancholy struck her, but she always managed to somehow handle it better; she wore it like an accomplishment around her neck instead of added weight.

No matter how far back he went, in every memory the black cloud of Grant hung over the family, like a specter that clung to happiness, staining it. Grant, at his most harmless, had always enjoyed spouting tired profundities, with an awareness of his own failures absent. If Kate, their mom, or himself, committed the slightest error, he’d shake a finger in their face saying, “You reap what you sow. Gotta put in one hundred ten percent.” Daniel could bear the harassment personally, but not watching him inflict it on the rest of the family. Even before the wealth came and went, Grant’s rotten behavior stunk to the heavens.

Years ago, when Grant returned home triumphantly to declare that one of his anti-depressants had finally passed clinical studies, Daniel had thought maybe he would get better. They’d be rich after all. What ever went wrong for rich people? Money however, like any other horrible disease, infected the family. Prior to Grant’s monetary success, he had at least a sort of forced humbleness, brought about by many unsuccessful attempts to create something capable of passing testing. He’d even had a partner he’d worked with, a kind man: Sam.

Daniel had liked Sam, he represented a counterbalance. Sam could deflate Grant’s overblown ego like no one else. He would visit sometimes; he and Grant were drinking mates. After a few, Grant would call Daniel or Kate into the kitchen, eager to reprimand them for whatever fault, but Sam wouldn’t allow it. Instead, on these singular occasions, Sam would turn the criticism around. He’d cajole and tease, in a self-deprecating fashion, he and Grant’s impotent forays into pharmaceuticals. Sam was able to split the blame between the two of them; his humour cut just deep enough that Grant would yield, leaving the target of his cruel affections free to leave. After Grant’s drug got approved, Sam disappeared, and along with him any sense of humility—forced or otherwise—Grant ever had. After that, he had as much confidence as he did money; the prosperity’s bolstering effect on his warped self-worth redoubled his criticism of the family. The best way Daniel could describe his father was a frenzied drowning man; he could only ever breathe if someone were below him. Suffering in his place.

Human existence, so often referred to as—life, a funny delineation Daniel always thought, considering so much of it is death—would eventually take its karmic revenge. Grant had just enough time for a meteoric rise. Soon after, many people prescribed his wonder-cure for depression—ironically—started killing themselves. In the tragedy’s aftermath it wasn’t Grant’s company that was going to go under, it was him. The resulting backlash against Grant was severe: loss of his job, humiliation in the public sphere, fighting off jail-time, and all accumulated wealth consumed by legal fees. The trauma on Grant’s psyche evolved his base meanness. A predilection for bullying his wife and children became something more sinister, something violent.

 

——

 

“Well that’s an eye-opener.” Kate pointed at a building they approached at the end of the block. Large at a distance, it took a closer look to fully appreciate just how immense it was. Gothic and ancient looking, it stood anachronistically at odds with the tiny 7-eleven and dry cleaning shop huddled insignificantly next to it in the shadow of its western corner. A mess of construction scaffolding and support lines held up sail sized blue safety tarps. Ostensibly erected for renovations, they blocked much of its eastern side from view. The project’s scale reached many meters up and off the side of the building. Through a high fence running parallel along the side of the block, the siblings could see a lone rectangular temporary portable, set back from Escher like labourer paths. Likely a headquarters for engineers to coordinate the work crews efforts. It sat atop cinder blocks, above the mud and muck of the winter construction yard.

Daniel stepped up to the fence lacing his fingers through its links. “Shut down for the winter.”

“What do you think they’re actually doing?” said Kate.

“Just what it looks like I’m sure. Old buildings need repairs. Probably just taking longer than they thought it would. Sure would be fun to explore though. Look at that stuff. It’s a maze up there.”

Kate looked at her brother. “I won’t tell you not to get any stupid ideas—I know that’s impossible—please just try not to act on them.” Kate’s gaze was serious.

Daniel laughed. “No promises.”

“Are you kids alright?”

Kate and Daniel both jumped in surprise, turning to find a man stood behind them, hands crossed in front, resting at his waist, dressed in grey robes. While they’d spoken he’d walked up behind them after descending the white stone steps of the religious building.

“Christ, mister, you scared us.” Daniel put an arm around his sister pulling her to stand next to him. The man raised his arms, palms upwards, as if indicating he had nothing to hide.

“Terribly sorry, not my intention, did you two have any questions about our humble grounds? You seemed to have an interest in them?”

“Hell. Damn.” Daniel paused. “Well let me think.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. His sister cocked an eyebrow watching him bemusedly. “Now that you mention it, yes. What’s going on with all this construction? Looks like this project has gone on for a while.”

“Renovations, old building,” said the man in grey flatly. “We’d hoped to have it complete before the winter, but alas, the plans of mice and men.” He smiled invitingly.

“Of who?” Daniel looked confused.

“It’s from a book, oh wise brother.” Kate jabbed her brother’s ribs playfully causing him to keel over, loosing his protective grip on her shoulder. Kate stepped forward and looked up at the man who stood many heads taller than herself. “So what do you worship here?”

“The one true God of course,” replied the man.

“Which one?” Kate’s words cut quickly, she barely allowed the man time to finish speaking.

The man frowned, perturbed. “His name does not so much matter, young lady, as what he does.”

“And that is?”

“Why, free you from pain, from sorrow, all the sadness that this world heaps on you. Release from all those feelings, in a word, absolution.”

“I like my sorrow, it keeps me warm at night,” said Kate, crossing her arms.

“You’ve been hurt very badly, young one.” He put a hand on his heart. “I can see th-”

“You see nothing,” said Kate angrily. She did not let the man in grey continue. “Daniel, let’s go.” She tugged on the sleeve of his jacket.

“I didn’t mean to offend you, young lady.” The man gave a slight bow. “Please consider coming by to see us if you ever have more questions.”

Ignoring the offer, Kate pulled her protesting brother further down the block. The man in grey left waving pleasantly in their wake. Moved out of earshot, Daniel spoke, “What’s crawled up your ass and died, Kate? That was fun. How many more times do you think we could’ve blasphemed before he lost it?”

Kate never stopped looking straight ahead and walked with quick determined short strides. “I don’t think that’s the team he cheers for, Daniel.”

“Huh, what are you talking about? He’s some kind of Christian.” Kate did not respond. “Not a big deal anyways, he seemed nice enough.”

“Hitler was kind to dogs,” Kate mumbled.

“He really got to you eh? You’re usually a rock round people like that.”

“No one gets to say to they know me; they have no idea.”

Taking the hint, Daniel shut up. Three blocks later he and Kate arrived at their new school. As they did, the sun lifted high enough for its beams to flood down the city’s skyscraper lined corridors, unfurling like a blood-red carpet under their feet; they walked on light.