By J.L. Pendall
We’re all wounded. We judge others based on if they soothe or aggravate these wounds, and we judge ourselves the same way.
No one makes it to adulthood intact, and then our pain becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We get pissed when someone reminds us of how little power we have over our own trauma.
Some people aggravate our wounds on purpose because our pain soothes theirs; others do it because they think that awareness of our wounds will help us heal. But, for the most part, it’s an accident. It’s like if there are two robots, one programmed to go north and the other east. They bump into each other if they cross each other’s paths at just the “right” moment. Each robot is programmed to respond to interference in its own way. Robot A is programmed to re-orientate itself and continue on its journey; Robot B is designed to destroy anything that interrupts its path.
That’s the gist of most human interactions, even with the people we love the most. Input to output; if x, then y. I like thinking that I’m different, but I know that I’m not.
When someone I’m not intimate with aggravates my wounds, I get angry. When someone I love does it, I get sad. If someone I don’t care about soothes my wounds, I start to love them. If someone I love soothes my wounds, I love them even more. We let people in who make us feel good, and push out the ones who make us feel bad. We do the same thing with our views and traits. What a dumb life, a total waste of consciousness.
We might as well be Roombas cruising around an infinite living room.
People don’t talk about the Good Life enough these days.
“What is the Good Life and how do we live it?” used to be the fundamental question of human existence. All religions, philosophies, politics, arts and sciences are answers to it, even if they don’t seem like it on the surface.
We don’t approach the question directly anymore, so it’s easier to see it in ancient schools of thought. Buddhism never mentioned the Good Life directly, but it does in a round about way. Early Buddhism is basically an Indian mirror of Stoicism.
“What’s the Good Life?’ is vital because that’s not a question that a robot asks. A robot never wonders, “Is my programming conducive to a Good Life or not? If it isn’t, should I change it? Can I change it?” These questions—and the desire for perfection—are really the only things that separate us from machines. Even consciousness doesn’t set us apart if we haven’t freed it from our habitual judgements, beliefs, impulses and preferences.
From what I can observe, the Good Life is a life where 1) we’re mindful that everyone is wounded 2) we desire only to soothe other’s wounds 3) we’re mindful that there’s no one best way, and 4) we’re mindful that we can only soothe others, we can’t heal them.
This is a way to heal and be unwoundable. It’s a healthy way to handle our pain.
We can only be free and genuine if we can responsibly deal with our pain. These observations are ways of treating our wounds and easing the heartache. Until we put in the work, things are gonna keep aggravating our wounds, and we’re going to respond blindly according to our nature-nurture.
I’m tired of just responding. A miserable life is a passive, affected life where we’re tossed around like socks in a dryer. A good life is an active, effective life where we become a person in the world rather than a person of the world.
I know that hurting others is never my intention, but the fact that I still do it accidentally shows that I’m often ignorant of that first observation: we’re all wounded. That I often hate myself shows that I’m more concerned about soothing my pain than other’s. That I’m so concerned with being true to myself no matter what, shows that I’m ignorant that there’s no one best way to be.
I’m only constantly aware that I can’t heal anyone else. Since I’m only aware of that and not the other three observations, I sometimes suffer to the point of wanting to die.
I don’t know if I can change this. If I can’t, my best option is to do what I did when I was young; withdraw into myself and never get close enough to another to cause them pain. We can only truly hurt the ones who love us. That’s how the wound started to begin with.
Most kids love life; they’re amazed by everything they encounter. But nature is oblivious and has no conscience, so this life we love hurts us over and over again. That’s when we start to withdraw into ourselves, and then we start to see the otherness of, well, others.
The Good Life is in undoing this isolation, returning to the version of ourselves that only loved.
Failing that, the opposite way can soothe the wound as well—withdrawing completely. Not loving or hating anyone, and distancing ourselves so that we’re not loved or hated by anyone. As grotesque as it sounds, that’s a recipe for tranquility, and it’s the path of countless sages.
But I don’t call that a Good Life, just a Not Bad Life. It can soothe our wounds, and prevent us from hurting others, but it can’t heal us. We’re being unaffected by things, but we’re also not affecting things.
Basically the tranquil sage might as well be dead already The only thing they give the world is their carbon dioxide when they exhale. It’s the most selfish life, even more selfish than a sadistic CEO’s, and it’s based on fear.
I can’t settle with that, I can’t live that life. I have to change. There’s a warmth in me, a selfless care and intimacy, but it’s so hard to use it out in the open. Whenever I try, something always bumps into me and triggers my wounds. Sometimes it’s not even something real, it could just be an invasive thought or misunderstanding.
Then, when the bubble bursts, it’s like seeing the cosmic machine. The pointless repetition, the impersonal chains of cause and effect, the impotence of everything we do. The Void.
But I don’t want things to be that way, so I imagine that they’re not, and I get more bubbles of happiness. Reality always wins, and the reality is that good, bad, meaning and purpose are all illusions designed to get us out of bed in the morning. Nature is indifferent.
I have to accept that to be free from it and rise above it. Accepting it, down to my marrow, is the “how” of a selfless life. Fear is the only decent reason to live selfishly, and a selfish life can never be the Good Life since it’s a life of bursting bubbles.
When I confront the Void, then that’s the end of fear. With that, I can finally live for others with my True Heart.
Editor: Dana Gornall