Your eyes open. Not with the gentle, unhurried flutter of dazed morning haze. Not with the slow, heavy ache of Too Much Last Night. Not even with that deep, honeyed satisfaction of boundless gratitude for the fact of waking. Your eyes open, wide and naked, in clammy horror at the pale dawning of day. The hollow drumming in your chest, the dry scratching in your throat. The eternal ache that cannot be named. Laying siege at the gates of your frantic consciousness, these gathered sentinels mark the ever-ready assault of that ancient crisis we all have known: The Existential Tailspin.
You're lying in bed. You're breathing. You're you. You are. And you cannot for the very life of you say why or for how long. The endless, gaping field of possibilities and paths for each moment of each day of your life swarms your racing mind, prickling the barricades of your sanity. Maybe it's just for a few seconds -- before that swift dose of Accepted Reality that we've all been prescribed and that we all swallow numbs the raw and wild terror that lives and waits deep within us. Maybe you let go of the unknowing and throw back your sheets, stretch your limbs, brush your teeth, brew your coffee, do your work. Live your life.
But maybe, just maybe, you can't shake the gnawing sense that your existence is nothing short of miraculous and confounding all at once. And that you're squandering it.
How many seconds do we live with that we dread? Doing things we hate? Walking the carved routes and ruts that make us slaves to our own footsteps? Just how many moments of our lives are nothing but a random collection of tasks and motions that somehow, absurdly, define us? To imagine that so much of every day -- the accumulation of each precious moment of being alive -- is lost in instrumental pursuits is nothing short of High Tragedy. I'm doing A to get to B, which will of course lead to the illustrious C, undoubtedly causing D -- the perfect segue to the coveted Q! Is this living? Is this real life?
Sometimes, it feels that we're trapped in a perpetual forward motion machine. An '89 Buick Station Wagon with wood paneling and burgundy velvet seats, strapped tight to the way, way back seat. Watching each nanosecond recede and fade from our bodies, slipping ever and away into a past we've barely shaped as we are hurtled toward the bright, imagined future. The Better Place. The happier time. Success.
What about now?
Not too long ago, in a state not too far away, my starved soul jolted me out of fitful sleep almost every night. I'd awake at an eerie hour of non-being, a fine sheen of perspiration coating my chest, dripping down my sternum. Petrified. Lost. I was pursuing a career that validated my intellect, that garnered the approval I so craved from Those People, that placed me on a nice, neat, tidy road to a comfortable, stable, secure life. To Ruination. A cosmic conglomeration of fortuitous events (and perhaps the Return of Saturn in my 28th year, as one of my astrologically-inclined friends suggests), conspired to drag my bewildered soul to the brink of crisis. To the ultimate confrontation. To the undeceiving mirror. And there, I saw a self of my own making that was decidedly not the Self within.
I cannot articulate the feeling of that realization, the absolute grief of seeing myself charting a course through life I knew would only ever fulfill certain parts of me, particular needs that aligned with what society had labeled as important. I follow the rules; I read instructions. But after so many years of toiling away at one way of being and all the while denying and stifling the creative energy of my own dear spirit, I cracked. Thank the heavens or God(s) or the universe for that.
After some fairly uncomfortable and exhilarating meditation within the void, I found myself returning to the dreams I had long since shelved for More Sensible Choices. Screw sensible. For me, the way out of that yawning vortex -- The Existential Tailspin -- was simple. Be true to what I want to do with this magically organized bundle of molecules. I am here; I am living. I am life itself. The remnants of a supernova bound together and aware of its being. What miraculous creatures we are, and what a mind-boggling home this universe is.
So why waste another fraction of a heartbeat? Unchain yourselves from the lives you've been programmed to lead. Stop cultivating an identity of stuff: "I'm the kind of person who uses this phone, who drives that car, who buys furniture from these stores." What the heck does any of that matter? Who, ultimately, gives a flying fig newton? Deep down, you know that you are so much more and beyond the things that you heap around yourself to keep you safe in those eerie hours of non-being that we wake to in quiet agony.
To think that we might just be a civilization of drones plugged into machines all day, glued to seats, chugging along for how many hours of our lives at tasks that we resent -- how can we allow our existences to be like this? Just so that someday, we can get to where we want to be? We are living now; we need to start living now. Stop doing things you don't want to do just to get to the place think you want to be. There's a cultural myth plaguing the air we breathe, and it kindly informs us that we have to be productive members of society and that being productive means X, Y and Z. Then, eventually, we can retire. What if everyone just stopped listening?
I am fortunate enough to have people in my life who support my return to creative pursuits -- which, I do hope, will eventually allow me to support myself. So many others are trapped and seemingly bound to the conveyor belt that drains the beauteous light from our cells. Maybe it's crazy, and maybe it could topple the carefully erected architecture of our world, but I dare people to spend time in that Very Scary Place that does not lie, the place that snaps us out of slumber, that jostles the drugged stupor from our limbs. Don't worry, you don't have to linger there overlong. Just long enough to glimpse where you are and to find your way back to where your Self lives.
I don't know what the meaning of life is, and I went to Divinity School -- twice! Believe me, I came out of there confused beyond fathoming. Some people take comfort in the answers to the Ultimate Questions that they find in their faiths, in the gorgeous language of hallowed texts and the humble musings of religious leaders. That's comforting. That's awesome. But where's the comfort for us wayward, loose folks with spiritual commitment issues? The cold, yawning possibility that everything and nothing is true? Or worse, both at the same time? The kind of mind-folding paradoxes that make us sweat in the uncomfortable, deep places of our itching souls? Religion isn't there to comfort us: It's there to connect us to the astonishing fact of our miraculous existence. No day has to be the same; no day will be the same.
So make of life what you will. Whether you're a devout Russian Orthodox Christian or a forest-dwelling Gaia worshipper, a contented atheist or malcontent Parsi, I would wager what little money I have that the dread of being has come knocking at your door -- that you know just what I mean by Existential Tailspin. As this magnificent Earth blazes its own celestial course around the throbbing heart of our solar system, answer the call of your own spirit. Live for life. Live for you. Live for now.