By John Lee Pendall
My head is usually full of questions; questions and random facts about the Beatles.
I’ve learned too much to completely trust anything that I know; nothing’s beyond doubt. No matter how infatuated I get with some view, doubt always rushes in like a tidal wave and knocks me on my ass.
I don’t mind it; it’s made for an interesting life. That said, I’m getting tired of being a nomad. There’s gotta be a lush valley out there somewhere that I can settle into. I want to feel at home in myself enough to let others in. So, I’m still reaching for that last Q&A—that final plateau.
When I look back at all the views I’ve staggered through, empiricism resonates the most.
Empiricism says that our senses are all we’ve got, the sensorium is everything, we can’t know anything without the senses. This this is kind of shaky if we don’t look at the intellect as a sense organ, but Buddhists do, and its sense objects are concepts.
The problems start when we give our ideas so much attention that we lose track of the rest of the sensorium. That’s when we get swept away and lose perspective. No matter what happens, we’re here and now, so if we ask the weird question, “What does it mean to be human?” then that’s where we start.
To be human is to experience sensations and to move through them like a flashlight at dusk, each partially revealed feature fully illuminated when we turn focused attention to it. Everything else fades into the background a bit.
To be human is to yearn.
Each moment we’re looking for certain sights and sounds, certain thoughts and situations that feel good and satisfying. If we can’t find that here and now, we can wander off into daydreams. We usually want things to go both ways. I want to eat junk food everyday and be healthy. I want to be in a relationship and be alone.
I want to live forever, and I wish I was never born. Being torn is human, and the more torn we feel, the more nightmarish our daydreams can be.
But it’s from that tear, that smoldering contradiction, that we can feel things so deeply and tap into something that seems unlimited. A depth and grace to being alive that goes above and beyond anything Hollywood’s ever come up with. Each life, each mind, each heart has more to it than any writer could ever, uh, write.
Straddling this line between joy and sorrow is human.
Changing is human. Remaking ourselves, remarking on ourselves, trying so hard to bring those pleasant daydreams to life. Wanting to feel at home in ourselves in a wandering world is human.
Clutching, pushing, grasping, being overwhelmed, being underwhelmed, celebrating, grieving, speaking the truth, deceiving. When we look at all that being human entails, it’s like the lines between us start to blur. It’s like we all go through the same things, the same list, just in different ways. Feeling some compassion because of that is human—but not giving a fuck is equally human.
Most of the religions and philosophies I’ve studied and practiced deal with trying to attain some ideal or understand some deep truth about reality. It’s rare to find one that focuses on taking stock of how things are for the living person who is here right now.
It is who have traveled, and sought, and suffered and smiled so big that your face hurt.
It’s easy to look to some self-help method or guru to save us; it’s far harder to let go of the idea that we need saving.
Why do we feel the need to run from the paradox that’s the foundation of life itself? Don’t run—experience yourself experiencing everything else. There’s a bright awareness to being human, and deep silence to everything that isn’t now.
All I know for sure is that, when we get stuck in our heads, our lives tend to seem worse than they are, and then we tend to make them worse by trying to make them better. That’s kind of funny—in a really dark way.
I’m not an empty-header, I don’t think the solution to suffering is having a blank mind all the time. It’s more like grounding intellect in seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling, and using intellect to guide the other senses as well. Balance is an integral part of everything.
Breathing in, breathing out. That’s human too.
It's easy to look to some self-help method or guru to save us; it's far harder to let go of the idea that we need saving. ~ John Lee Pendall Click To Tweet
Editor: Dana Gornall