zen

I read a fantastic piece in Las Vegas on a guy who did LSD regularly for over a year.

As time went on, I stopped viewing myself as a being separate from the universe. Sensations became interesting to watch, not motivating. I entered such a permanent state of utter peace and contentment that I stopped wanting anything at all. And by the end of it, I barely got out of bed, barely ate. I had stopped working almost entirely and was living off slowly depleting savings. Why would I work? Why would I do anything? I was…. not happy, not sad, I simply was. I was free of desire. I did not fear death.

Source: I did so much acid I almost died

This got me thinking about a number of similar concepts that I think share one unifying thread: a conflict between ideal and self.

Let’s explore three places I see this tension.

  1. Selflessness: This is the example from the article and quote above. It’s where the ultimate manifestation of life is to become one with the world. It’s what monks teach. It’s the study of how to lose yourself as the ultimate goal.
  2. Open Relationships: This is the idea that love is so great that it should never be hoarded or restricted to one person. It’s the idea that you should share any love or romance you have with the world, and that it’s wrong to keep it for yourself.
  3. The Lack of Free Will: This is the idea that free will is not possible, and therefore moral responsibility is impossible as well. Some take this to mean that you should not treat people as deserving guilt or praise, since they are ultimately responsible. It’s the concept of the universe doing everything, not us.

All of these have something in common: they are about dissolution of self. They’re about the self blending in with surroundings, with our shared existence, and the abandonment of the selfish perspective.

We’re largely taught that this is a good thing—that too much focus on self is a negative trait to have. And of course I agree.

But as the referenced article points out, and as I’ve been increasingly feeling over the last few years, it’s quite possible to go too far to the other extreme.

I’ve come to believe that what leads to the deepest happiness is following the path laid out by our creator, i.e. evolution.

Evolution wants us to look after ourselves. Evolution wants us to experience life in the first person. It’s the reason we cry and lust and get angry. And it turns out these experiences of emotion are centerpieces of human experience (and therefore happiness).

I think this is why depressed people sometimes talk about enjoying negative emotions, such as fear. It’s because they’re at least feeling something. At least they’re caring.

The opposite of humanity might not be suffering or hatred. At least those things are tied to desires to live, or desires to improve.

The opposite of humanity might be indifference. Apathy. Depression at its worst.

So, as with so many things I’ve learned in my time on Earth, I think we have a balance here. There are those who have no connection to the world around them. No sense of humanity. No sense of shared experience. And I think this is sub-optimal.

There are also those that seek to abandon all self, and to experience life as a shared organism. I believe there can be great wisdom and peace that can come from such pursuits, but I don’t think it’s ideal for most. At this stage of my development I think it’s too impractical and extreme to yield sustainable happiness.

I think the best path is to gauge where you are, and see which of these you need. Do you give of yourself too much? Do you see everything from the perspective of others? Are you averse to extreme experiences? Are you living other peoples’ lives instead of your own?

For those people I think they may need to move inward. Enjoy the experience of living. Laugh, cry, love. Embrace what makes us animal and human. Reach inside and experience all that humanity has to offer.

And for those who are too focused within (perhaps most people?) we could probably use the occasional movement towards selflessness. Meditation definitely, but perhaps something drug-assisted as well, assuming it’s safe. Just enough to remind us of our shared experience, allowing us to access the concept of human unity.

It’s sad to think that many won’t feel this feeling. I need to experience it more myself. Having only dabbled in meditation I am no guru speaking from a mountain. But I at least feel like I understand what I’m missing.

Summary

  1. There are two extremes—selfishness and selflessness—and we should be able to move towards the poles as needed to experience the richness of humanity
  2. Going too far towards the selfishness pole will likely make you a bad person, especially if you stay there for long
  3. Going too far towards the selflessness pole can potentially disconnect you from humanity altogether, as we are ultimately what evolution made us, and evolution wants us to internally experience emotions as prompts for self-advocacy

To maximize happiness, understand this spectrum and learn to move freely on it.

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:: Self as Anchor appeared originally on danielmiessler.com.

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