I hiked up one of the fire roads at Griffith park yesterday. Went all the way to the top where you can look out on downtown. I just stood there for probably twenty minutes….not knowing how to feel about anything. As I walked back down (it’s about 45 minutes each way) I realized a fundamental human problem. As humans we don’t understand what being together OR being alone really means. While we are technically alone our whole lives we spend the entire time trying to connect with other people whether it be for friendship, romance, family, etc. Even when we accomplish what we think is the ultimate “together” (marriage) we end up alone in the long run because people die. We were given the gift of self-awareness, but we weren’t given the ability to understand how that consciousness can die out. If we could understand it we wouldn’t grieve. We also probably would not have organized religion. Almost every religion on earth states that when we die…we aren’t really gone. It is an excuse to bypass the idea of permanent absence of consciousness where one once existed. This also accounts for the idea of a “soul.” Soul simply being a word to explain the “personality” that each person has – the traits we exhibit that go beyond instinctual behavior and physical flesh.
This is why loss, whether through death, divorce, moving, etc. can be the most traumatic event many people will experience. This explains why combat veterans have trouble reintegrating into normal society. They have been trained to kill. It must be a very large burden to live with the knowledge that you killed another human. Not because their life ended – but because we don’t understand what happened to them after that. Is it okay to do this just because someone “in charge” of you said it was?
However it happens in your life – loss will be accompanied by advice to “move on.” Moving on is a false concept. What these people are really saying is (although most of them probably don’t even realize it) “think about something else and never think about that loss again – because you’ll never be able to truly understand it.”
The human mind instinctively tries to understand; to make sense of what we witness. I think this is a reason why some people (myself included) can become depressed. This also explains why depression seems to appear more among more intelligent and creative personalities; for they are the truth seekers. When there is no truth to be found – these people keep at it – as if they’ll be the first to discover the answer to life. It never happens however, and the minds keep bending downwards into a pit of confusion over the subject. Most of these people end up taking chemicals simply to stop their brains from following their natural path – for that path leads to personal destruction.
Sigmund Freud said that depressed people see themselves as they really are. If they are convinced they are a loser, ugly, pathetic, etc. then in some small way that must be true. Perhaps he was more right than he knew. Perhaps depressed people can really see how terrible the world really is (after all – people are getting murdered right now, people are starving right now, people are being beaten, etc.). Animals have an instinctual behavior to avoid harm – but it is up for debate whether they actually understand death. What I mean by understand in this sense is the fact that it will A) one day happen to them and B) a dead thing is no longer living. Humans appear to be the only animals that were given this “gift” of understanding (but only halfway).
Almost everything we do every single day is dedicated to the pursuit of forgetting this cold fact of life. We work. We tell ourselves we’re working so we can buy food and live. If we really wanted to just eat we’d all still be out on the plains of Africa killing wild animals. The problem is – after we kill that animal and fill our guts, we’re left with ten more hours of sitting around wondering what the point of life is. Why do you think the “regular” working day is from 9am to 5pm? It is structured so that we have something else to occupy our minds. We’ve set up a society in which we work so hard at this distraction that we need to take “vacations” from it. Imagine that – we need a vacation from the thing that is keeping us from getting depressed in the first place. This is why we hear about depressed millionaires and wonder “how can they be depressed, their life is better than mine and I’m doing okay?!” The answer is – those depressed millionaires have a lot more free time to sit and ponder the meaning of life. The reaction to realizing you can’t figure something out (and never will) is naturally sadness. The natural evolutionary path for humanity is sadness.
That is – until we develop (evolve) the ability to actually understand these things. That is the next step. It is unclear whether human beings will ever reach this point (although I suppose that is the goal of the buddhist) – or even if any animal in the entire universe ever will, but it is the only way to actually be truly happy. I would hypothesize that anyone who is “happy” now is simply choosing to exist in a state of ignoring (thus “ignorance is bliss”). Real happiness will come when (if) we are able to understand the world (death) and then embrace all the things that make us superficially happy now – for at our current state of evolution these “happy” things are merely distractions.
However, if the choice is to be puposefully ignorant and be happy…or live with this knowledge and be sad – I suppose I’d rather be happy. Ironically – being depressed leads to a quicker death – and we’re all afraid of death in the first place. By ignoring death and it’s implications we actually do live longer. Fitting, in a way, don’t you think?