Seemingly Dichotomous Psychological Substates

For the first time in my adult life I find myself grateful to not be in a relationship. It has become apparent through her behaviour that my ex – who, the poor thing, suffered greatly through anxiety and general being-fucking-crazy – is trying desperately to reverse our roles. She got a job, shirking her responsibility as “primary caregiver” to our son (a title she has been beating me over the head with for years, despite him being in care for four days of the week) and for no good reason, as I left the money tap on full tilt. And while we’re talking about money, she is trying to take all of ours for herself. In fact, all my contributions to the family she is trying to claim or steal now. While she attempts to take my roles and contributions on, one by one, she is handing hers over to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no idiot – I’m taking them on consciously as it serves the highest good. My boy will get better care with me and be happier once he adjusts. I believe she is doing this because she is very lost, very jealous, very hurt and actually holds me in remarkably high regard. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. She also wants me to suffer, I believe. To walk in her shoes so that I can truly understand her pain.

The funny thing is that all these roles I’ve assumed that were apparently “so difficult” that I “don’t understand” are either so easy that I can do them in amongst my normal (normal! Ha!) life with zero disruption (even though I’m presently of no fixed address), or are joyous, or both: like playing zany instruments with my boy until he tells me sincerely “remember to love your heart daddy!” Or dancing hard with him to Head That I Hold by Electric Guest until everything fades but our ecstasy of movement and music and he beams at me and flings himself into my arms saying “you make me happy, daddy!” I’ve never witnessed it as clearly as I have in the last couple of months what a little mirror/sponge he is. He perfectly reflects back what he sees. And he sees very clearly.

Now the dichotomy. Despite “the dreaded ex” and this whole situation being so horrible that I feel like I never want a relationship again, there’s this deep heart ache and this trench-weary exhaustion. I’m so tired of being attacked, being under threat, I just want to rest and melt in some gentle, loving arms. To hold and be held. To give and receive the nonverbal message “everything is ok” that only a loving opposite can provide. But I can’t. And that is fucking hard.

All or nothing

I want to consume the whole universe. I will start with a hot dog – mustard, tomato sauce, cheese and all the trimmings. I’ll then polish it off with Moscow, wiping the corners of my mouth gingerly with the blanket of the Atlantic. Pretty soon the Americas will be in my belly and I’ll burp before drinking the Pacific dry. Crunching through the earth’s delicious pie crust I’ll savour the hot core like a chilli tako yaki from a Tokyo street vendor. I’ll move through the solar system inhaling comets, planets and space junk ’til there’s nothing left to hand but me and the sun. This I’ll absorb by osmosis. I won’t bother moving about to chow down on the rest of the Milky Way; I’ll simply focus my will and pull it to me like a sequined blanket caught in a vacuum cleaner.

I’ll keep going until there’s only me with all the universe inside me. Then, with the teary remorse that accompanies the consumption of all existence, I’ll draw in on myself until I am a singularity of anguish. An infinitesimally small point of potent rage and sorrow.

Finally, with nothing left to feel but abject compassion, I’ll explode.

And so it will all begin all over again.

Subjective Meritocracies

Certificate of Merit

Alain de Botton, who is a legend, has much to say on the subject of meritocracies. Largely that they’re a nice idea but he doesn’t believe we live in one (no matter how much we would like to believe we do, or how frequently we’re told we are). There are just too many (seemingly random) variables to objectively rank merit. Fair call, I say.

Pluralistic Relativism

Ken Wilber (in A Theory of Everything) talks about pluralistic relativism whereby we (globally, but in an unbalanced manner) are evolving away from dogmatic, mythic forms of life; away from scientific one-upmanship to toward a plateau of evolution where individual differences are celebrated and we are each left to our own devices to find our own spirituality, our own politics, our own way of working and living which makes the most sense to us. I.e. we are no longer labouring under the oppressive yoke of values imposed on us by major (or minor) religions and are left to discover our own value systems.

Subjective Meritocracies

I’d like to suggest that Wilber’s discussion has something to say about the universal meritocracy conundrum: that we live within subjective meritocracies – every person you come across will award you merit based on their individual value systems. This is why sometimes you will “win” and sometimes you will “lose” when you’re doing exactly the same thing but with different people. Any universal meritocracy is merely a facade which represents a rough approximation of the average values of its citizens. Of course, given cultural differences we’re looking at a mesh of meritocracies where two people will (potentially) collectively award merit differently than they would individually. A third person changes the mix further. Scale up to a community or a nation and you start to see how the mesh plays out. And, like the rest of the universe, everything is in a constant state of flux so an act or omission that receives merit this minute may be condemned the next.

Applying Subjective Meritocracies

So what does this mean in practice? Well, I think it means that we should just live the life we want to live.

Tangential Sketch

A friend of mine – my best friend in my late teens (when the term “best friend” had sincere and powerful meaning); an awkward but close buddy through my early twenties (and the introduction of serious girlfriends for each of us); a closed and distant acquaintance the last 6 or 7 years as we moved in different directions – is getting married in a couple of months. A couple of months ago he indirectly hinted that he might be considering me to fill the privileged position of best man. These days I am getting better at really considering options and opportunities, so I stepped back and looked intently at our relationship. I realised that we hadn’t been close for a long time, that we were really just going through the motions. More, there was quite a bit of suppressed anger on my part as I felt he really ‘used’ me: for rides, as he has no car; to facilitate social functions, as he appears fairly socially inept; to help him move house, which he didn’t ask directly (allowing me the option of considering and turning him down) but rather trapped me with the old “if I tell you a secret will you do me a favour?” – I incorrectly presumed he was going to propose to his girlfriend and wanted my help so agreed. Then he told me he’d bought a house and needed help moving… Long story short I felt I needed to keep to my word and ended up slaving away until 1 or 2am on a weeknight.

With the question about being his best man looming (there was no open discussion, just the vagaries of his email attempting to preempt my response so he could be assured of a positive reply before he asked), I went deep into it all. I spoke to my therapist at length about him. After I related my long laundry list of complaints (from wanting rides through the house move to his hosting a BBQ for 6 people but only buying 4 sausages, 2 chicken kebabs and half a loaf of bread, then calling me asking if that would be enough, and my answer being “I have a kilogram of sausages in the fridge and a loaf of bread, I’ll bring it”), my therapist nodded knowingly, empathised emphatically, then said something that snapped my head back. “You enable his behaviour.” I enable his behaviour? “He calls you saying he’s bought four sausages and you feel sorry for him and bring a kg of sausages.” The rest fell into place. I wasn’t angry at him – he was simply another character who hooked into my old behaviours whereby I take pity and go out of my way to support him, thus perpetuating the situation. The whole mess unraveled and the anger ebbed out of me…

Back to the Point

So, last week, when he finally got around to asking me to be his best man (by email), I had to decline.

Not right or wrong, simply different. He is operating under a set of values that didn’t value friends or social interaction as heavily as I do.

By mid-afternoon I felt fine

The more work I do on myself, the more fucked up I feel. It’s like there’s a deep-seated misery in me, itching it’s coarse fur within my skin, caught between liberation and obliteration through light-exposure. It wasn’t always this way. For a while there I felt some mistrusted sense of peace.

Show me a happy person and I’ll show you a fool (or a liar). With all due respect, I’m coming to understand the fools, harnessing universes of ignorance, are the more enlightened of our species.

This may be due to the equation h a 1/e (h is inversely proportional to e) where h is happiness and e is ego. Ego, in this context, incorporates the breadth of the thinking, problem-solving mind (i.e. the capabilities offered by the presence of a prefrontal cortex) and not just the fashionable use inspiring images of arrogant, buzzword-shootin’ hotrods in the executive suite.

But then I sit next to this column heater and consider the type and level of energy it puts out and I have to consider whether or not the ache in my head parallels the ache in my heart and all is due to some chemical imbalance caused by the present epoch’s mod cons.

When I consider the (now unfolding) ramifications of my ostrich-like retreat from the world, I wonder how the fuck any of us are meant to find peace or happiness with the human strength (read: failing) of turning the profound into the mundane. I’m coming to believe that perhaps assuming the role of the observer from a lofty perch, seemingly removed from society in order to observe society, simply makes me soul-sick. Society is a system and whatever mental barriers or abstractions I lay over the top of it, I am still a part of it. Worse, these barriers and abstractions are functions of the system, so all is delusion.

But the system is not evil, nor is it purposeless, nor is it meaningless. It has its own intelligence, but is, like our bodies, a representation of the cells within it. Mental retreat can simply obscure the profundity and beauty such that we forget the good and come to believe that frustration and angst rule (couldn’t be further from the truth).

Connect, my siblings. Hug a stranger. Forget the past, try not to rehearse the future, notice with amazement the unfolding moment. And then, just when you start to get an inkling of the awesome wonder of it all (via consciousness: our feeble minds are incapable of comprehension), try to have a meaningful conversation with your family.

It is true that any strength is also a great weakness. But it is worthy of note that by the same token, any weakness is also a great strength.