Clarity is Hard to Come By

A moment of clarity that stays – that’s really all I want.

It took me many minutes to get to this page – there were many things to check before I got here, there were a few interesting posts hiding in my timeline, which I had to work hard to excavate, open in a new tab, compile a reading list, read them, and then of course, there was that short film tab that I naturally landed on because I had opened it a day ago, so I watched that, meanwhile there was that email too which I replied to without but oh oh I had to add something to my calendar though that can wait because there was that event that I had heard someone mention that I should register before but – shit – I haven’t been jogging in a week because – that book I was reading it had that quote about jogging which went – the… oh yeah – shit. This article. Right.

How many times in those few rambly sentences did you consider navigating away?

And how many of those can you truthfully blame on my bad writing?

Imagine looking at a maze from above – it’s many corridors laid out for you in their pristine glory. You could easily, with enough time, find a way out. But for someone born in that maze, the realization that they are in a maze could take forever. So, I took it upon myself to clearly visualize the source of my own muddled mind – to identify the high walls & false turns that now exemplify my neuron network.

1. Be A Sponge, Son:  I was born a few years before bright screens replaced, well, almost everything. And I still grapple with, for the sake of convenience, let’s call it, self-control. I lack the self-control, the discipline, to only absorb information for a certain amount of time per day, and for another certain amount of time per day, allow it to fester or flourish as it deserves. Unfortunately, the only time I allow myself to order, compile, correlate, discard or earmark happens during REM. That doesn’t help because I usually wake up even more confused. And then I absorb some more.

If I had to choose a metaphor, my mind would be a room. Outside this standalone house kind of room, there’s a shit storm of products. Food bottles. Treadmills. Energy drinks. Clothes. Boobs. Handphones. Beds. Amusement park roller coasters. All that, and everything else you can name, flying around without giving a flying fuck about anything. Usually, this is shit thrown out by other people from their own rooms – these could either be well annotated collections of books, or an empty, crushed can of beer. And what do I do? I stand outside my house, holding on tightly with one hand, right on the edge of the small steps, as maelstrom of stuff rages around me carried by powerful winds. I collected some stuff yesterday – so I could go back into the room, sort it out, and figure out if I actually need anything else. Instead, I build fishing nets, bigger and bigger ones, and everyday I catch more shit and bring it back in. Then before I’ve seen what I’ve got, I go outside again to brave the winds. I’m a collector, but I don’t care what I collect. The room – my mind – keeps filling up, and there’s only so much real estate left. I need to start throwing shit out soon, but I’m kind of… looking the other way.

What do I do with my free time, you ask? Well, I –

2. Make the Most of It: There is a certain part of me (a very overwhelmingly influential part of me as it turns out, because there are some other parts of me that have meekly expressed their discontent on occasion, but that overall me has still taken no strict, or even symbolic action) that wants to do more with every moment of my time. It’s some sort of disorder for sure, because the desire to do often outstrips the desire to be, which is stupid, existentially speaking. For instance, I once read a piece of advice (which I didn’t solicit, or need, but read anyway, because point 1) that we who have smart phones and 3G and earphones have no excuse for not maximizing every moment. Something like that. Meaning if you’re in a bus, or queuing somewhere, or on the toilet, open a book. Listen to an audio lecture. Learn a language. It’s a race, everyone’s sprinting like fucking Milkha Singhs, and you need to keep up. Or some other inspirational shit to go with it. I don’t even know. So I downloaded ten productivity apps – calendar, to do list, inspiring quotes, goal trackers, gamified fail logs – the whole shebang. It’s been very rewarding, in the sort of way you feel rewarded when you swat a particularly annoying fly that was sitting on your toe, with a hammer.

But, dude, you say, why not just slow down and chillax? Well, thing is, I’m –

3. Obsessed with Goals: I’ve become this guy who has so many short- to medium- term goals, that when people ask me what I want to do, I’ve started telling them my to-do lists. Sure, I want to do many things by May this year, but – what then? More goals, sure. But  – what then? It’s a sort of mindless myopia, that requires a significant degree of delusion. You think you’re not afflicted? Ok, I’ll say a phrase, tell me what pops up in your mind. Ok. Ready? The phrase is – big picture. What’s the big picture? What you’re doing now – what’s the big picture? What you’re doing this month, this year, the next couple of years – what’s the big picture?

Here’s the ultimate big picture – you’re less than a dot. You’re a little senseless organism on one of the billions of planets in what’s possibly a multiverse. In the grand scheme of things, when you feel like you’ve fucking revolutionized the world, you’ve probably – I don’t know, stirred some bacteria in the cell of the mammoth that is the world. Like imagine you’re Gandhi AND Hitler – you killed millions, then preached non-violence and saved even more – you’ve lived the absolute miracle of a life. At THAT point, you’re comparable a speck of dust in a desert storm. That’s the real big picture. I mean, if astronomy hasn’t taught us humility, I don’t what it’s for.

So, dude – what are you chasing? What goals? What are you beating yourself up about? And when I said big picture, what did YOU think about?

“So, like, we’re screwed, or do you have some insight to share too,” you ask? Well I think –

It’s about being simple. You don’t actually need to do anything to solve this problem. Here are my few steps to calming down:

1. Delete everything from your phone. Except the 2, 3 apps you need all day, every day. That means, for me, phone, SMS, whatsapp, google maps, calendar. Get rid of ALL the rest of it. [I made a folder on my android called ‘CRAP’ and put everything else in it. The Fail Logs, the Fitbits, the Film showtimes, the PDFs, the music.] I think even if you spend every other moment of your life staring at a laptop, those times when you’re just walking somewhere, or taking a bus, or queuing, those moments of zero absorption will really help.

2. Everyday, stare into space. For just 15 minutes, stare into space. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, just remove yourself from the whirlpool of your present situation and stare at nothing. Breathe. Deeply, if possible. Meditation is even better, but if you take it too seriously and get caught up in it, it becomes another oppressive goal… Just stare, that’s easier. Think about everything, but no writing, no absorption. Let it tumble around in your head. It’s ok, you can still do it in 15 minutes, nothing is going to happen. Seriously. Calm down.

3. Build habits, not goals. No, I’m kidding. That’s total bullshit. Don’t BUILD anything. Build a bridge if you must. Build is too strong a word. To me – the need to build a good habit is as oppressive as having a goal. Life need not be that hard, you don’t need texts and approaches and life hacks! Everything doesn’t have to be a project, and sometimes, if you can’t, it’s cool! Big picture!

This one I feel I must explain. I read somewhere that choices are often thought of as one-off decisions. They’re not. Each time you face that same temptation, the choice has to be made afresh. So when we make a choice, we commit to making it again and again in perpetuity. That’s SO much simpler than building a habit, or achieving a goal. In it’s usual mystical beauty, the magnificently vast universe is only controlled through moment-to-moment, everyday decisions. That’s where we humans have agency – at the microscopic. So don’t unnecessarily pressurize yourself with these long-term, macroscopic goals, habits, targets, deadlines. These bog you down. Just, at those crucial moments, make the right choice. That’s easier, and you can do it next time again. No problem.

4. Moderation, Moderation. You know the joke about the moderation fanatic who refused to take up arms? He said he didn’t believe in it that much. Everything you do – mix it up with the opposite. Don’t apply this like a dumbass and make jokes, I mean serious stuff. Like if you’re listening to music all day, mix it up with days of total radio silence. If you’re always ‘Online’ on WhatsApp, mix it up with some offline time. Sink, then swim, but never drown.

When great hearts and minds are constantly at war with themselves, it is our civilization’s loss. As a generation with immediate access to immensity, it is our unsolicited responsibility and frightening privilege to deal with it much before the rest of humanity. It is therefore our duty to adapt, learn, and find ways to achieve clarity even within this storm, so that by the time those screens arrive to hypnotize the last child on earth, his parents have prepared him. Because, that kid – a moment of clarity is all he’ll really want.

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5 thoughts on “Clarity is Hard to Come By

  1. If we agree that there’s no ‘right answer’ to the big picture, then most everything is just semantics, no?
    Like, almost all directions or guidelines are merely different strategies to do things with varying levels of effectiveness (I used the E word, yes) – but if the things themselves are up for question, then it just becomes a matter of do what you want.
    People don’t want clarity any more than they want distraction. All anyone ever wants is dopamine. What gives your brain the best hit depends on a lot of things; your mileage may vary. So, to quote this very article: “the desire to do often outstrips the desire to be” – but if you’re ‘doing’ / ‘refraining from doing (which is a form of doing)’ things from your list to ‘be’, then how?
    Somehow it keeps coming back to me consciousness is merely a by-product of existence

    1. I see the big picture as absolute, actually… Just that I’m trying to use it to chill out significantly while retaining an everyday agency, as opposed to complete say, nihilism.

      I think I meant to “just be”. Which is closer to just let it be than be who you want…

      So are clarity and distraction to you – just to give your brain a hit?

  2. I am nihilistic, and that gives me the freedom to live without the roof of the big picture closing in. (Purely personal opinion).
    There’s a fine line between ‘just be’ and ‘just do’ – Getting your brain to automatically get into a process that you’d like to be in, as opposed to consciously telling yourself “Okay, I’m going to be in this state of mind / in this process”. I find that line to be a human creation – and therefore, changeable.
    Clarity and distraction are not the focus – the focus is what they do to your brain. So yes, giving my brain hits of dopamine (whether that be by watching random TV shows, or mastering a new skill) is what I feel it is about. Of course, some strategies are better in the long term than others (do you want a large hit now, or a small hit over many years of health) – but if the big picture is relative then I might value, say, a long life as important, while someone else might not. 🙂

  3. Abishek – I think the takeaway from this post for you should be that you need to get rid of that Fitbit (even though I say so myself).

    1. Me counting my steps is quite similar to me measuring my weight, or using a calendar or a watch, or measuring KPI’s for projects. So I assume we’re drawing the line (on what to measure and what not to measure) arbitrarily. The question then becomes, why single out the fitbit?

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