Tuesday, March 24, 2009
"The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness,..."
This clip from a commencement speech hit home with me, and I would assume so many others as its so pertinent to today's (and everyday's) lifesyles and the ways of our world that I felt I must share its sense and importance in our lives, even if only in my own little way.
The enormous weight of this subject is no small matter, but a glimpse into what could be, or what may shine into our conscious minds, if only for a brief moment, And I hope that moment will mean something to you, and bring you closer to what would bring clarity, awareness and attention into your life.
"The really important kind of freedom involves attention..."
- Alex Steffen
March 20, 2009 12:06 AM
David Foster Wallace left behind this beautiful passage from a commencement speech:
You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism.
There is no such thing as not worshipping.
The only choice we get is what to worship.
And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
It's really easy to make an ass of yourself thinking aloud about subjects this big in response to a writer as brilliant as DFW, but... I'm more and more of the opinion that actual practice of the good life -- a deepened sense of meaning, more caring and closer relationships, more sensual and exciting experiences, more satisfying work, more creative expression and more plain old fun -- is something that has eroded, noticeably, from our lives as they've become more debt-leveraged, materially cluttered and unsustainable.
As much as I admire voluntary simplicity, I don't think that simplicity for its own sake is the answer, at least not in the sense of relinquishment or retreat from the complexity of 21st century life. But I increasingly think that an increase in clarity is an absolute precondition to the world changing the way I want, and, perhaps more even more importantly, to living like that world was already here.
And I suspect the clarity I hope towards and the kind of freedom David Foster Wallace describes here are much the same thing.