By John Author
Life’s a jungle.
We might think that things have changed in the years between the caves and the office, but they haven’t. Our technology evolves but our hearts are the same. So here we are, prisoners of the grind in a life that’s utterly unnatural to us. Each year we develop new insoles for our shoes as our forest floor feet still struggle to adapt to the hard concrete. Our eyes strain under the fluorescent lights, our skin chafes under cheap cotton. We live in a zoo; the cage is called commerce.
I’ve yet to meet a single person who is happy with it—with this artificial world, with labor by coercion. Everyone seems to hate their jobs, even if it should theoretically be something they love doing. That’d be alright if we didn’t spend 30 percent of our lives working another 33 percent sleeping.
The average Westerner lives 79 years, which is around 954 months. Out of that allotment, we spend:
- 314 months sleeping
- 286 months working
- 110 months watching TV
- 51 months driving
- 43 months eating
- 38 months surfing the net
- 17 months cleaning
- 17 months in the bathroom
That leaves around 78 months leftover for things like creative ventures, spending time with friends and family, community service and going for walks on the beach.
We did this, not some wicked man behind a curtain.
We chose this, and not only once, we choose it all over again each day, each time we wake up and decide not to walk back into the woods. It’s not all bad. Modern life is a bit artificial, but it’s longer, safer, and comfier than the wild life. I won’t turn my back on the artifice, but I have to see it for what it is and learn to compromise.
The greatest suffering I’ve seen in people is the ever-gnawing need to belong. It’s a result of this plastic domestication.
According to Abraham Maslow, belongingness is one of the basic human needs. It comes in third place after the needs for survival and security. Maslow felt that self-actualization (enlightenment) is the ultimate need, but we have to meet other needs before we get to it. In his paradigm, actualization comes after the needs for survival, security, belongingness and esteem are met.
We live in a world that makes this impossible. No matter how much we gain or accomplish, there’s always something more, something lacking.
These needs were cut and dry in our nomad days. Food, water, shelter, a mate, contributing to and protecting the tribe—that was it. Excelling at everything is in itself, actualization, and offers the chance to appreciate the natural world.
The tribes are gone, relationships are complicated, the basic necessities come with strings and rest on the shoulders of the forgotten and exploited. The artifice we have made is astonishingly complicated, and it offers endless distractions from the simple things that really matter.
As the ceiling rises, supported by fiberglass pillars and disposable principles, we lose our footing—we struggle our entire lives to acquire even one degree of fulfillment. Wandering through life, we are always searching for someplace to belong, someone to belong with, and something to belong doing.
There is no limit to the lengths we’ll go to to belong, nothing we won’t sacrifice to be loved and accepted. I even watched anime because my ex-girlfriend liked it.
I can’t stand anime.
But the thing is, we don’t belong—we don’t belong in any of this. That’s the driving force behind the spiritual seeker, a deep sense of being misplaced. Having given up on looking for our place in the world or a job, we search for a place to belong in ourselves—to be able to live with ourselves. To be able to look in the mirror without criticizing or despising the person you see. This is what it’s come down to in the world we’ve made because the world we’ve made has made being ourselves a problem.
We don’t have time to be ourselves—to do the things that come naturally to us.
In meditation, we relax and then sit with ourselves until we are okay sitting with ourselves, and until we can stand to be alone with ourselves as we are. The Eightfold Path helps with that; it’s our compromise. It helps us to “stand” ourselves—to tolerate and accept ourselves. Then we can accept the way things go in general.
However, it’s a mistake to think that we belong on the Path—we still don’t belong anywhere.
If the Buddha looked at Maslow’s hierarchy, he’d probably smile and say, “Crave nothing, cling to nothing—then all needs are met. There is no belonging, only becoming.”
“Eyes need us to see
Hearts need us to bleed…
I know where you’re from
But where do you belong?”
– Life Like Weeds by Modest Mouse
Photo: (Morley/Street Art)
Editor: Dana Gornall
John is a Caodong Ch'an student in the Empty Cloud Lineage of Hsu Yun. His Dharma name is Feng Dao which means "Wild Way" or "Windy Way." He originally wanted to become a social worker, focusing on preventative mental health care, but writing is his passion. “Above all else, I’m just a writer. Words come, I write them, I drink coffee.”
Oppression and marginalization are key issues for John. “I was forced out of mainstream society at a young age by my peers. So I will always stand up for the underdog and criticize bullying, coercion, and any institution that relies on those tactics.” Asked about what the most pressing issue of our time is, he replied, “The environment. We’ve bullied the earth so much that it could almost be called marginalized.”