Not Everything Is About You, Not Even You Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-03-28 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

This is a sequel to my earlier post about not waiting for the good times.

There are many days when the real world feels like it's engaged in this quiet conspiracy to keep me from doing anything. It guilts me into doing busywork, or it gut-punches me with reminders that I have unfinished business, or it wastes my time with tiresome and thankless chores.

Wait, stop — you see what I just did there? I just anthropomorphized all this. I wrote all that as if all those problems and obstacles were people, or sentient things, and that it was some duty of theirs to make my life miserable and unproductive.

I think the human brain, as part of its various evolutionary adaptations, has accustomed itself to these kinds of anthropomorphic explanations, possibly as an evolutionary adaptation. We assume intent where there is none; we assume agency where agency is impossible. We want to believe whatever it is that's getting in our way has a name, a voice, a face, a phone number.

We have a very hard time dealing with the idea that the problem does not actually exist in that form. It sure explains why for tens of thousands of years we assigned all the actions of the universe to various deities or supernatural agencies. The idea that all this stuff was just happening went against our wiring.

One of the reasons I cottoned to Buddhism was because it has as a central tenet the idea that the universe — you included — is nothing but stuff happening, action and reaction. There is no moralizing component to any of this; it's just the way the universe is constructed, and all the moralizing lather we pile on top of life doesn't change the nature of the underlying situation.

But people, it seems, would rather anthropomorphize the evils of the world — they would rather make this stuff personal, even when it's manifestly impossible for it to be that way — than confront the fact that even other people hating on them is just another manifestation of the universe being wired a certain way.

It's hard for people to swallow this. If a cop pulls them over and gives them a speeding ticket, it's hard for them not to see it as a personal affront. But all the ways we see such things as "personal" are nothing but ways to avoid seeing the situation for what it really is. I remember reading once that German police reports are full of passive language — e.g., "The arrest of the suspect took place". I think about that a lot as an analogy. It's not that you got a speeding ticket; it's more like, the situations for a speeding ticket took place.

We really want to make stuff personal, and I think it's because we think the alternative is some inhuman limbo where people don't exist. Nothing could be further from the truth. The alternative is a worldview where there's no less of "you" in it, but where you understand that the "you" you carry around in your head is essentially a label for a collective process, and where you're not fooled into thinking that existence is some kind of engineered inconvenience.

It's hard to even begin seeing such a frame of mind, and I totally get that. I had a hard time seeing it myself until I started systematically setting aside time and energy to overturning it. It's not something most people want to do. Most people would rather either indulge in themselves to excess or escape from themselves entirely, instead of learning how to look at what they are and not be mystified or deceived by it. And we live in a world that's constructed to allow people to do those things. It gives them jobs to puff up their ego with, it gives them entertainments to forget about themselves with (although the forgetting is always temporary), it engineers any number of circumstances to allow them to never face themselves.

It's hard work ignoring all that. But this is nothing new; people have been trying to do an end run around those kinds of things for thousands of years now. What is new is how we have the ability to see and act on those things with a kind of clarity and precision we never really had before, and to speak about it in language that is aimed at the guy next door, and not a student casting away all worldly things.

Before you cast away all worldly things, at least check out my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold, and showing your support for it by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.

Tags: Buddhism Zen psychology