Writing as catharsis

In a land of some other order

Posted in Poetry, Prose, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on June 13, 2014

Habana Vieja (Old Havana, Cuba) by Pablo Cholka http://cholkafotos.blogspot.mx/

In a land of some other order
Rum soothes the soul while
The heat of the day drains away
Both motion and motivation.

Beasts of iron rumble by as,
Breathless and bleary-eyed,
I walk through streets of stone.

Strain as I might, I see only surface light.

Oblivious to pulse and warmth,
And weightless in my sense of self,
The vacuum of language encloses
Like a shawl.

I drift through the city.

As stray dogs scavenge and
Street hustlers hiss, I hear
Only noise and non-sense.

No one pronounces my name.

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A Kafka-esque nightmare in LAX

Posted in Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on June 12, 2014

LAX = primary U.S. jerkport

Welcome to a journey into the gruelling, spiralling bureaucracy of Los Angles airport.

We began our long-awaited holiday dazed and confused at a little after four in the morning en route to Sydney airport. Our path to Cuba was not a simple one. First we had to fly to Brisbane; then to LA; then to Cancun, and then, finally and after an overnight stay, we would fly from Cancun into Habana, Cuba.

Things did not begin well.

I’d heard many tales of caution and woe coming out of LAX; cocktails of excessive airport security and a complete disregard for the comfort, hopes or dreams of the humans who pass through it’s gates. This had me nervous. Despite numerous bored assurances from our travel agent, the timing of our connecting flights looked dubious. Our agent thought it completely reasonable that we would land (hopefully on time) in LAX, clear immigration and customs, collect our luggage, get to the transfers desk, re-check our bags, walk to another terminal and then board our departing flight within a ninety minute timeframe. What she failed to appreciate is the subtle but important difference between a flight’s departure time, and it’s boarding time. We were scheduled to land in LAX at 6am, and had to board our next flight a few terminals away a little after 7am.

Sensing forthcoming doom, I repeatedly asked ground staff at Sydney and Brisbane, as well as hostesses en route to LAX about our chances and best strategy to make our connecting flight. Certainly no one thought we could make it, but they told us we’d simply be put on the next available flight. That seemed no cause for panic.

We hit LAX at 6am as planned, but were forced to sit on the tarmac for half an hour (it turns out LAX Customs don’t actually start work until 6:30am). My sense of doom thickened. With increasing nervousness I consulted a hostess once more. She smiled knowingly and told us to look for ground staff in orange coats at the top of the gate – they would give us an Express Clearance Pass to get us through America’s ridiculous level of security as quickly as possible. Sure; splendid; gracias.

As we hurried off the plane I inhaled deeply to slow my heart. We reached the top of the gate only to find that this orange human did not actually exist. No one was waiting for us. Ominous.

We proceeded, by now slightly panicked, to immigration. Humans amassed like insects, creating long lines with which fate mocked us. Customs were absurdly understaffed. Perhaps this was all intentional; a strategy to sweat out the dealers and mules, to observe with unblinking and binary hawk eyes the body language of all who wished to pass on US soil.

We approached a stone-faced lady who bellowed out monotonous commands to jetlagged travellers. Her job could have been done equally well by a looped and especially obnoxious recording. We asked how we could better our chances of making our transfer. She barked at us to either get an Express Pass, or wait in the longer lines. She showed not single a trace of human empathy; her interaction with us was completely free of emotion. She offered only a stone façade coupled with a withering, bitter smile. Perhaps she was some form of android – or perhaps she is merely a simple human devoid of love of life and damned to the eternal hell of LAX customs.

What should we do? What should we do? We decided to try and run back up to our arrival gate to find the invisible orange coat, but halfway up the stairs were overwhelmed by a stream of new arrivals pouring down. We ran back towards customs, and approached the help desk bleary-eyed. They suggested we speak with the Android of Stone once more. When we protested we were smuggled into the express customs lane by our helper, earning her the ire of her fellow staff. Rule number one is to always follow protocol. Do not let weak human emotions stray you from The Path laid down by the most holy TSA. Your fleshly weakness sickens us meat-ape.

As another man ushered us through the line, I asked him if he thought we could still make our flight. Forgoing all tact he simply burst out into loud, hysterical laughter right in my face. Empathy and courtesy are apparently not in the American national character.

Brutalised and thoroughly disheartened, we waited for half an hour to clear the ‘express’ lane. Our flight had already begun boarding as we cleared customs. We picked up our luggage to walk through yet another visa checking point at the transit desk. This section followed an anarchic process; people swarmed chaotically while a single lady simply yelled and pointed at humans she deemed worthy of clearance. This did little to calm us. When we finally reached her, she refused to take our bags since all hope of making our flight was lost. She sent us trudging off a few terminals away to book ourselves on the next flight. By now it was 7:30am. Truly we were doomed.

We walked a good ten minutes to the terminal. After some stumbling around, we found the Delta Airlines service desk. Surely here we would find help and understanding? Not so. The blunt ‘customer service representative’ behind the desk told us we would have to get on the next flight to Cancun – which was in 24 hours. We did some calculations; this new flight would mean we would miss our Cancun-Havana connection, and would have to wait an extra three days in Cancun for the next available flight to Cuba.

When I asked whether we could simply book another airline to get to Cancun today, our Delta Airlines rep lost her temper and growled “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Not if you want to go home. We’ll have to cancel your return flight.” Surely this was a jest? Surely no airline would cancel expensive flights and strand us out of mere malice? I tried reasoning with the woman, but she was not interested. The answer is no – you’ve heard my threat, now please stop wasting my time sir.

Exhausted, dehydrated, and with mouths agape, we’d truly been battered by the attitude of staff at LAX. They were obviously completely unfeeling as to our plight. We were sleep deprived and slipping into a state of extreme despair, heavily cursing our travel agent for dropping us into this mess with unforgivable incompetence.

After a quick brainwave, I found us a United flight leaving at 10:30am for Cancun. We called our travel insurance provider to see whether we could reclaim these new flights (and resolved to worry about this whole “cancelling our $4,000+ return flights” bullshit later). Our insurer told us that missing a flight due to customs was a grey area, and could not advise us on whether we would be covered. I knew that if I told them the truth about why we missed our flight they would have rejected our claim on the grounds of travel agent incompetence.

We bought the United flights ($540), then decided to check one more time with Delta to see if they could not manage not be total jerks (though at this stage I was half expecting one of them to throw a powder bomb of anthrax in our faces if we dared challenge their Supreme Airportly Authority). We made sure we spoke to another rep; a severely confused geriatric who moved with almost comic slowness to complete each task. As we explained our situation to him once more he stared blankly at us; hands shaking, mouth open wide, half stuttering, before simply repeating our verdict of doom.

Alright, fuck these people: we are getting out of LAX today, and you aren’t stopping us. We left for yet another terminal change. While we were overjoyed when our booking registered at the United check in desk, our hopes were quickly quashed as a big error sign flashed on our screen. We were sent once more into yet-another helpdesk queue. After another twenty minutes of waiting, we were told that although the online travel agent had taken our money for our flight leaving in 2 hours, our ticket status was still pending – and that it could take up to 48 hours to be confirmed.

That is just fucking great. Thank you.

Somehow this saviour of a woman managed to con the system, get us our boarding pass and check our luggage. While we were given no explanation as to what exactly was done, we were too relieved to care.

We passed through yet another queue into yet another another scan and security checkpoint. Our fatigue was getting severe. We found an American style diner and got some greasy food. I rewarded myself for managing not to kill anyone with a giant beer. Our waitress looked at me strangely when I placed my order. It was 9am in LA.

The entire airport seemed to be filled with obese Americans waddling around in a half-daze, loudly and proudly proclaiming banalities;

“OH YEAH, LETS JUST SIT THERE, JUST SIT THERE. OH I’LL JUST TAKE THAT SEAT THAT LADY ISN’T USING IT — ARE YOU USING THIS CHAIR? OH GREAT, GREAT! THAT’S GREAT, WE’LL JUST SIT DOWN HERE. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO EAT? I DON’T THINK I’LL GRAB A STEAK THAT’S TOO HEAVY. I FEEL LIKE A COLA, MAYBE A BURGER…”

…and on and on and fucking on. It’s as if they need to constantly reaffirm that they are indeed sentient human beings — or perhaps they think the mere fact they can think will profoundly impress those around them. Well I can tell you that we are not impressed and we hate you; we haven’t slept in two days, and we would just love you to shut the fuck up.

Blissfully it came time to board. We made our way to our gate only to find our gate had been changed. We arrived at said new gate only to discover that our flight had been delayed by an hour. We wandered LAX aimlessly for a while before collapsing in a seat near the gate. Two kids behind us decided to serenade us with excessively loud video games on their phones, which I was supremely thankful for.

Time passed slowly until our gate was changed once more (just for kicks!). We sat down at the new gate, desperately fighting the urgent to sleep for fear that we would sleep through our boarding call. Right on cue our flight was delayed by another ninety minutes. Fate chuckled heartily. We looked at each other and held back tears. By now our tiredness was extreme; neither of us could keep our eyes open. We were sinking into a deep sense of hopelessness and futility. There were already a few points which threatened to break us. Right now all we dreamt of was boarding the plane and slipping into sweet, sweet slumber.

After an eternity it came time to board. We made our way through to the desk, and smiled an exhausted smile at the attendant. A loud noise bore into our skulls as our tickets were scanned. “Oh, sorry sir but it looks like your ticket has been cancelled.”

My brain could not process this. We were both overwhelmed and on the verge of tears. We were told we had about twenty minutes to buy new tickets before the plane left without us. We ran over to yet another service desk where we were informed the flights would actually cost us $870 (the failed travel agent apparently had access to a cheaper price). I shoved my credit card in his face, heart racing, soul sinking. We were finally handed our new tickets and boarded the plane — but not before receiving a courteous email from the agent notifying us that our booking had been cancelled for absolutely no discernible reason.

On the plane we immediately fell into a deep sleep, awaking only to find ourselves landing in Cancun, Mexico.

There was no relief to be found there. Cancun is a revolting capitalist playground. It is the embodiment of everything wrong with America and the crusts of the earth that it conquers and desecrates through cash; a sordid mixture of Disneyland and downtown Vegas which somehow manages to be tackier than both and is populated by frat movie caricatures; a full 28km strip along the Mexican-Caribbean coast crowded with monstrosities and monoliths with every building, every room and every speaker relentlessly blaring out trance music regardless of the hour while sheltered Americans strut along the streets loudly observing how “THIS IS JUST LIKE VEGAS MAN”.

Dear sweet Lord deliver me from this fucking agony; rain forty days and wash these jerks from my life.

10,227 days

Posted in Philosophy, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on April 26, 2014
Depository of 500+ year old printing blocks. Tandjur,Tibet. 1925.  Photo © Joseph F. Rock

Depository of 500+ year old printing blocks. Tandjur,Tibet. 1925. Photo © Joseph F. Rock

I am twenty-eight today.

That number is almost completely devoid of meaning. It is divorced from any sense of self I possess, other than the recognition that, as time moves forward, the more I am able to better respect and understand myself; the less that confusion, pain, ignorance and selfishness rule me; and the more that I am able to embrace and enjoy life, increasingly freer from the obsessive anxiety questions of existence impress upon me (or, perhaps more accurately, the questions I impress upon existence).

One phrase seems to sum up the progress in my life over the last decade; I was once a nihilist, but I got better. Life negation threatened, and has now been reconciled.

Ten years ago I made it a point of rejecting the more obvious paths my life could take – an early marriage, kids, a mortgage, a secure corporate existence safely devoid of passion and allowing me to enact some sort of breast-beating masculine ritual of competitiveness in a suit and tie. I held goals like financial security in contempt; and strongly questioned the assumptions of capitalism and the view of life as a pure accumulation of wealth.

The passion with which I held those vaguely-defined ideas now seems quite childish, but I can also understand why I had such a strong reaction; I instinctively understood that if one was to jump to these ready-made life decisions without treating them with the gravity they deserve, they were a sure-path to misery – and I had observed countless people trapped inside miserable lives.

Above all I wanted to avoid the failure of my life; of becoming a man hollowed out at fifty years of age; wretched, powerless and left with nothing other than to wage a bitter, petty war against those around him. I sought power-over and consciousness-of my existence. I felt then – and still feel now – that choices in life should not be made out of obligation, subservience, laziness or lack of creativity; to do so is a disrespect and an abhorrence to life.

My goal has always been to try and know myself better; to cultivate peace within myself and with the world. I’m sure for many people my stating that could seem absurd – I am certainly no enlightened being yet. I’ve slowly begun to understand what contents me, and I am very slowly becoming aware of the nature of my relationship to the universe and other people.

All I can say is that am incredibly grateful for my comfortable existence; for my friends and family, many of whom have stuck by me when I was a rather difficult and unsatisfied human being; and for the opportunities I’ve been given.

In the years ahead I will strive to reduce the mental noise clouding my judgement and perceptions, to open myself further still to new ideas and experiences, to – paraphrasing Goethe – roll up the rock of my life again and again and every day until my energy finally gives way; until my form decays and is reclaimed by the earth. There is peace and understanding ahead, but it must be earnt.

I still hope to take a sabbatical in the Tibetan regions of Nepal and north east India – a period where I can detach myself and think clearly about the ideas that preoccupy me, and that now only shine through in rare periods. I want to take that opportunity to write, and bring back with me some insight or new understanding that will allow me to live a better and more content life.

I do know I will be back. I feel there is self-delusion in many life upheavals, and I have no wish to run away from where I have spent my life.

If you have read this and you know me, thank you for what you have given me. Every experience, good and bad, is necessary and valuable.

In the words of Charles Bukowski; may we all get better together.

Review of John Gray’s The Silence of Animals

Posted in Book review, Philosophy, psychology, Ranting and rambling, religion, Science by Lachlan R. Dale on February 23, 2014

John Gray's The Silence of Animals

A sense of bitter pessimism seeps through the pages of The Silence of Animals as John Gray confronts the darker side of human nature.

Gray’s aim is the dissolution of illusion; a desire to face existence as clear-eyed as possible in the hope he might uncover a key to more real and meaningful life. But first he must clear away the mythological debris in which modern thought has become entangled.

In the book’s first section Gray produces a wide-ranging commentary on society, religion and philosophy. He is ruthless in his pursuit of two targets in particular: belief in the irreversible progress of civilisation, and faith in rational, liberal humanism.

The two are somewhat intertwined. Liberal humanists believe that mankind is capable of overcoming it’s flaws through the development of rationality. They anticipate a transformation into a perfect, logical utopian man.

Belief in irreversible progress represents similar utopianism, albeit on a grander scale. It posits that civilisation has (or can) progress to such a degree that any further relapses into barbarism are impossible. The concept follows that we are gradually progressing towards a sort of heaven on earth.

Gray scoffs at both suggestions. He claims that the belief in the perfectibility (or even basic rationality) of mankind is a “dangerous conceit of reason”; naive and unrealistic. He points to countless instances of barbarism in the past century to argue that humans are only ever “partly and intermittently rational”, declaring:

If belief in human rationality were a scientific theory it would have long since been abandoned.

Gray says humanists delude (and flatter) themselves by crafting a mythological self that is more noble, controlled, rational and ‘good’ than sober reflection would allow. For instance; humanists would have us believe that all humans long to be free, and that, if given the chance, would choose to live rational and ethical lives. Gray’s response?

To think of humans as freedom-loving, you must be ready to view all of history as a mistake.

The man has a point.

While this first section is littered with strong historical examples, Gray’s use of the rise of Nazi Germany to demonstrate mankind’s irrationality en masse is particularly apt. Under Hitler the general populous submitted to a totalitarian ruler. The ruling class utilised propaganda to stimulate brutal, primitive sub-conscious urges in the public — the lust for power, fear of the other, and the ‘collective psychosis’ of the mob.

This approach was effective primarily because humanity has not managed to completely divorce itself from its animal past – and no amount of self-delusion on the part of humanists can change this. Through National Socialism the German populace were liberated from the terrible burden of freedom and personal responsibility; which, when left unchecked, can open up a chasm of meaninglessness to swallow one whole.

Much of the history of the twentieth century demonstrates how easily ‘advanced’ societies can lapse into barbarism. It is a century punctuated by horrific atrocities and barbarism, from nationalist fascist movements, genocide, ethnic cleansing and world war. It is also one littered with millions of corpses from failed social utopias, sparked by people who believed that, through reason, a perfect society could be conceived. Thus Gray is easily able to erode any notion that mankind has somehow progressed beyond the days of barbarism. Civilisation is, as ever, remains a thin veneer.

When we consider humanity’s recent past alongside other facts of our existence, the optimistic self-image shaped by humanists fails to add up (however it’s lack of accuracy does not prohibit it from being a useful fiction). To Gray, humanism is a human-centric delusion which fails miserably to encompass what we already know about mankind – and while secular humanism may prove a valuable stepping stone away from the irrationality of unreflective religious belief, it still fails to resolve any of the central questions of existentialism, and tends to atrophy into a particularly detestable form of pompous egoism – precisely the form of mental stasis Gray wants to avoid.

As an alternative to such self-delusion, Gray advocates a form of naturalism that undermines the notion of human superiority over other animals. He wants the reader to recognise that as a species we are equally capable of great good and horrific evil – and that we are unable to simply deny the darker side of our nature:

There are not two kind of human being, savaged and civilised. There is only the human animal, forever at war with itself…

Human uniqueness is a myth inherited from religion, which humanists have recycled into science.

I certainly find it hard to argue him on this point.



How should we respond to the facts of existence?

Throughout The Silence of Animals John Gray is preoccupied with facing and accepting chaos in the universe. As a result he can seem to excrete measured nihilism and negativity.

Gray spends much of the second part of his book attempting to sketch out a world-view in response to the facts and perspectives expressed above. In particular he draws inspiration from Sigmund Freud’s philosophy of ‘stoic resignation’.

Freud recognised that mankind is innately flawed. His psychology did not seek to ‘cure’ man, but rather teach him how to live with the conflict and cognitive dissonance in his mind. As Freud saw it, all of mankind is sick and controlled by the unconscious. There is no order to human affairs, nor to the universe. Chaos is final, and in such an environment all there is for man to do is to assert his will against the inevitable end; to trudge on, without hope of reprieve.

Gray is attracted by this note of bitter, heroic resignation. In contrast he has no time for the dreamy mysticism and mythology of Carl Jung, and spends a few pages cutting down a few of his key ideas and casting aspersions on his character.

Another key figure of inspiration for Gray is British author Llewelyn Powys. Despite facing an early death, Llewelyn refused to give in to pessimism or to lessen his lust for life. Instead, he hungrily searched out the beauty, meaning and experiences that made life worth celebrating. Gray reveals much in his disposition when he comments that “the fact that (Llewlyn) was never far from death left him free to follow his fancy, which was the sensation of life.”

This sort of world-view strongly appeals to Gray. Llewelyn is a man who admits that “at the bottom of the well of life there is no hope” – but this seemed to just make him all the more determined to enjoy existence; to search out and create meaning. It’s a romantic image of a man waging an unwinnable war and asserting the self against the pitiless universe.



Godless mysticism

Here comes the reveal. Despite all this rather sombre talk of humanity’s flaws and life’s innate meaninglessness, Gray ultimately seeks is a path for yea-saying; that is, towards a philosophy of acceptance and embrace of life. He desires more abundant life – not less – and therefore refuses to view life-negating nihilism as a legitimate, long-term response to the questions posed by existence (though one suspects this might be for purely practical reasons, namely self-preservation).

Gray seeks to build a new perspective from the ashes of mythology, one that he has called ‘godless mysticism’. Robinson Jeffers describes this concept as:

The devaluation of human illusions, the turning outward of man to what is boundlessly greater.

No other sentence could better encapsulate the essence of The Silence of Animals.

Godless mysticism meets at a curious intersection of Eastern contemplation, stoic, cynical rationalism and paganistic regard of nature. The sort of reflection Gray advocates fundamentally differs from most disciples of eastern philosophy. Gray does not aim to “dissolve the self into an imagined oneness”. Rather he firmly rejects the metaphysics behind just mysticism*:

The freedom that nature-mystics look for beyond the human scene is like the spiritual realm of the religious, a human thought-construction… Godless mystics do not look to merge themselves with something larger they have imagined into being.

Where “monks and mystics try to still the mind so that it can grasp what it eternal”, Gray seeks to do the opposite; to “sharpen the senses” and better perceive the current moment; to absorb and reflect on it. Judging by his affinity for nature writer J. A. Baker this likely includes reflection on the beauty of natural world – but Gray also stresses we should not romanticise nature’s brutal and unsentimental character.



Conclusion

What John Gray strives for is an increased receptivity to reality. He is driven by a deep desire to break out of automatic existence, and to experience the present moment with more clarity and intensity.

Gray recognises humans tend to create abstract realities in which they can become trapped. The result is a barrier between the individual and the ‘real’ world. While Gray certainly refuses to entertain the notion that humans are capable of experiencing pure, undiluted reality (it would go against his strongly skeptical nature) he does believe that at times the sleep can get lighter.

The Silence of Animals has huge value in helping us think about the true nature of humanity, society, and the world in which we live. However, we need to recognise that Gray’s response (his affinity towards ‘stoic resignation’) is based on temperament. He would have us, the reader, praise and embrace existence in spite of it’s inherent meaninglessness – but warns us not to over do it. It would be equally valid to accept the same premises as Gray and be filled with joy, inspiration, love and gratitude for the chance to exist; and this would be no less valid than Gray’s sterner, strained reaction.

I admire strongly admire Gray’s resolve. While he embraces one of the most negative, cynical and sober perspectives I have encountered, he still looks beyond the horizon for a life-affirming state of mind. His naturalistic streak sees him searching for a deeper connection with the natural world, and ways in which mankind can live in harmony with the universe.

The book itself is a pleasure to read. At times Gray’s writing style seems almost stream of consciousness; he tosses up ideas as they spring to mind, and moves on as quickly as he had begun. From one perspective this makes The Silence of Animals a constant source of interest – the pacing is reasonably fast, and we are never bogged down in one strain of thought for too long – but it also means that some ideas or statements aren’t given the elaboration they require.

Some critics have lambasted Gray for over-use of citations (they run at about one-third of the book’s two hundred pages), but I’m quite comfortable with this approach. Colin Wilson utilised a similar citation-heavy style in his much-cherished portrait of the challenge of existentialism in The Outsider – and I will thank him forever for it. Throwing in passages from Conrad, Nietzsche, Borges, Freud, Schopenhauer and many more obscure writers and thinkers keeps reading fresh.

Gray’s is often thought-provoking. He touches on countless other ideas I have not been able to cover here for brevity’s sake. While Gray’s bouts of misanthropy, and his tendency to grimace might scare some off, for many this book will provide yet another useful perspective to consider the most important questions of our life.

The Silence of Animals is recommended reading to those who, like Gray, seek inner peace and freedom from delusion.

* Though I should note his argument against such ideas leaves much to be desire; he simply rejects them, then moves on.

The delusion of separateness

Posted in Buddhism, Philosophy, Prose, psychology, Ranting and rambling, religion, Science, self-knowledge, Zen by Lachlan R. Dale on December 22, 2013
The Lotus by Nicholas Roerich

The Lotus by Nicholas Roerich

In this piece I hope to define what I consider to be the most useful philosophical perspective I hold. 

In my early twenties and late teens I struggled to reconcile the immense suffering found in conflict, war and genocide with the shallow aims and pervading sense of self-satisfaction I found amongst my peers. For me, the existential issue of large-scale suffering (the likes of the Rwandan massacre) pressed on my mind with intensity and regularity. I could not comprehend how so many seemed content to occupy their lives with trivialities in the face of such a moral challenge; did not their minds not seek to understand humanity and existence? Were they not hungrily searching for meaning too?

I was consumed with a desire to find out how to live a full, ethical and contented life. I observed many around me whose lives were in tatters – elders usually, who had awaken from the daze of their lives to find themselves locked in an unhappy marriage, surrounded by children they considered a burden, weighed down by debt, and damned to work the rest of their days in a monotonous, unfulfilling job. They were completely miserable but lacked the sufficient consciousness to identify and alleviate the source of their misery. Even if they could perceive the life-change their circumstances demanded, the strength or courage required would likely be too much for them. Instead, they resigned themselves to waging a bitter war of small miseries on their family, co-workers and friends (if they have any). These unhappy, twisted men poisoned those around them, and in their self-pity they wallowed.

But I digress. What is of importance is that I struggled heavily with the moral challenge posed by acts of genocide in the recent ‘civilised’ past. I was also baffled by people’s complete indifference to these atrocities (though the severe limitations of the average human’s psyche is far more familiar to me these days).

I struggled in part because my foundations were rotten. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and so had at least entertained the notion that God is essentially good; that he intervenes in our lives to mete our justice; that suffering is rare, and that unfairness is merely a mistake awaiting correction. It featured a sort of deluded optimism that left me completely unprepared to confront the true nature of the world.

Gladly, these days I feel as though this issue has been largely reconciled. At the very least I do feel like I am succeeding in living a contented life, and in spending my time and energy on things I consider meaningful. At this stage the threat of the total failure of my life is small (though the fear still lingers in the dark corners of my mind). I’ve tried to define exactly what it is I have gained since those early years.

Above all I have attained a significant amount of self-knowledge. What defined my life back then was a sense that I was somehow a stranger in the universe. I felt safe in my suburban home, but my attitude towards nature was largely that of contempt or indifference. I was possessed by a simple, egoistic delusion that arises when one lacks sufficient understanding about oneself and one’s relation to the universe. I believed (or somehow sensed) that I, as a conscious being, were somehow separate from – and not part of – the universe in which I existed. I felt outside of it – beyond it. Sure, I existed ‘within it’, but I was an alien. I lacked a sense of kinship with nature, and as a result I was possessed by an absurd feeling of entitlement. As far as I was concerned the natural world was there for exploitation, or at best it had a place as a sort of trivial museum of the Earth. My ignorance and lack of self-awareness was astounding.

Today, at 27 years old, this notion seems absurdly naive and misguided. It seems that we are armed with sufficient information for a refutation of this delusion in our high school science class. I appreciate now, however, that it is one thing to acknowledge the truth of a proposition, and another to feel it. The latter requires the individual develop a degree of consciousness beyond that of selfish immediacy.

This delusion is one that I have found quite commonly suffered. In this piece I want to try and accurately define this delusion and chart the series of experiences and epiphanies that helped me lift me from it. If I have the mental clarity, at a later date I hope to move on to psychological, religious and social observations – but for the time being I will consign myself to definition.

Defining the delusion

The problem is this: certain members of our species have somehow convinced themselves that human beings stand outside the natural world and it’s order. They believe this in spite of the basic facts of nature; that we are the product of Darwinian evolution, and that we are demonstrably part of the same process of organic life as any other animal. Perhaps they have convinced themselves that we are not of this universe; that we were created after the fact by a bearded Creator – but the specifics are not hugely importance at this stage. What is important is to recognise that this belief has serious consequence in the way that we live and view our lives, not to mention our perceived moral obligations and personal aspirations.

Carl Jung once wrote:

People who know nothing about nature are of course neurotic, for they are not adapted to reality. They are too naive, like children, and it is necessary to tell them the facts of life, so to speak – to make it plain to them that they are human beings like all others.

(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 166)

By this Jung meant that humans need concrete, physical contact with the natural world to remind them that they are animals of nature. Huddled in cityscrapers and in constant engagement with abstract ideas and environments of our own construction, we tend to forget this fact, in spite of it’s self-evidence. The delusion of which I speak is a common manifestation, and one which inhibits psychological wholeness.

Our scientific understanding of the nature of the universe can provide us much to combat this delusion. I ask you please indulge me while I spell out the obvious (that we perhaps ‘know’ but might not yet ‘feel’):

We are animals.

Our species and our selves are the result of the process of evolution of organic life.

The universe is the meta-process that enables and makes possible our very being.

We are comprised of the same stuff as any other living creature – and of any matter in the universe; atoms.

When we die and our bodies decay those atoms are recycled into other materials, forms and being.

These facts are non-negotiable. Any conclusions we wish to draw from the above might invite a variety of interpretations of varying validity, but we cannot reasonably discount our understanding of the above. It would serve us well to regularly repeat that thought for grounding and perspective; this is what is known, so let us start building our morality and worldview from that.

Escape from delusion

But again we come back to the crux of the issue; we might ‘know’ or acknowledge the above – but acknowledgement is not enough alone. We must feel this to be true; or, in other words, we must couple a scientific/rational understanding of our relation to the universe with an emotional or spiritual one. And this is crucial, because the absence of an existential foundation has great potential to warp our psyche and leave us with a permanent psychological limp. How can we be expected to maintain a balanced mental state if we are unable to recognise the most basic truths of our existence?

We cannot. Instead the narrow limit of our consciousness consigns us to be blown about by shallow emotion and egoistic drives. We would exist merely on the surface of life, with deeper forms of contentment rendered inaccessible. We would also lack a firm moral grounding – for how we view the context of our lives effects a huge amount of the small actions and decisions that make up our day-to-day.

The ultimate consequence is, in short, is misery – both personal and more general. We will be damned to live out our days without ever knowing how to access deeper states of contentment and happiness. Thus we are left to blindly discern aims merely guided by our wills; constantly goal-seeking – but when we achieve our goal (or if our will falters) we experience a moment of profound panic or fear. While the goal has been met, that feeling of a deeper satisfaction still seems to elude us. We ask ourselves: ‘Was that it? What now? What comes next?’ And so we might be led down a false path, building up a series of goals and achievements in an attempt to hopelessly chase a longer-lasting satisfaction – but if we lack a proper understanding about who we are and how our minds work, then we will never find it. And so we risk ending up like those miserable husks of humans I mentioned in my opening paragraphs.

And this, friends, is surely what we would like to avoid.

To me it seems our failure to recognise some that we share a common essence with the universe – or a failure to we feel we ‘belong’ here – is the root of all nihilism. To feel as though we are unwanted strangers whose cries echo endlessly in the halls of a cold, unfeeling world that cares not at all whether we live, suffer or die — this is a severely traumatic experience, especially for a species as psychologically fragile as we.

It is for this reason that I feel this delusion is the defining spiritual sickness of our time – but if think back to those foundational scientific claims, we can defeat this delusion. It is so clearly inaccurate given the facts at hand. Human life is like any other form of organic life; a process of the universe. Human beings are so obviously of life and of the natural systems on earth – so what stops us from recognising this?

Overcoming the delusion

It is our ego, the teller of lies, that fuels this sense of estrangement. While it certainly plays a useful psychological role, it also regularly infects our minds with delusion. It is like a parasite that will whisper endless untruths for the sake of its own survival. It would love nothing more than to endless bloat itself with self-satisfaction until we are completely consumed by a sense of arrogant entitlement. We ultimately suffer for the over-indulgence of the ego – and so too the people that we love and care for.

So, how can we combat the influence of the ego? Well, most importantly we need to be able to properly identify it’s influence. This requires the purposeful cultivation of detached self-awareness, introspection and reflection. To paraphrase Alan Watts; take care to watch your thoughts like an impassive observer – do this especially whenever you feel yourself in an elevated mood (say in a moment of anger of jealousy) and try to discern why this is taking place. The idea is to think about your thinking, and through this method you will begin to understand how your mind works, and from there gain the power to question the validity of the ego’s influence.

So now we have come full circle. The most desirable trait we can accumulate is knowledge about the self. Through this process we can gradually become aware of our ‘true’ selves (of which I feel I am beginning to get glimpse). The result is a pervading sense of contentment, the cultivation of meaning, and the avoidance of the bitterness of triviality. Above all, we greatly reduce the risk that we might wake up one day to find our life a failure.

It is one of the great ironies that the deeper we delve deeper into ourselves , the more the universe outside becomes illuminated. As Carl Jung wrote (and as I tend to quote endlessly):

Who looks outside; dreams.

Who looks inside; awakens.

Reflection and self-knowledge are the key to better understanding and connecting-with the true nature of reality – and in discerning how to live a more fulfilled and meaningful life. This is the most useful proposition that I hold.

Fire

Posted in psychology, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on November 2, 2013

For too long this page has been silent, and no longer will it be so.

I have not been writing these past few months. This is always a bad sign. It usually means that I am being reluctant to delve into my mind to confront some psychological blockage. Gladly nowadays I can recognise the situation as such; and I know that I inevitably must dig.

Well, after some pondering, tonight the floodgates will open. I will attempt to write every night this month, and we will see what issues come to the surface.

Let’s start with something easy; my job. I work for a human rights organisation. I am exposed to news of all manner of horrific acts every day. As a coping mechanism I generally refuse to discuss the details of these cases – I compartmentalise my experiences, and ignore them after hours. This cannot be healthy. The issues are ones I am passionate about, so surely I am morally obliged to raise these matters with the people I care for. It is as though I have been too weak to face the realise of humanity’s dark side – but life has been prodding me back into consciousness. I have been watching Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of America, which has refreshed my memory of the many atrocities in the last century. Tonight I attended a talk by one David Simon, who discussed inequality and capitalism at length – and it is this final experience that has re-lit the fire in me.

To ignore, to be placated, to repress – these are all unworthy things. Yes, surely they are necessary at times – we cannot expect to bare the brutality of existence at all times, our strength must ebb and flow – but in the long-term these realities must be faced. You must allow yourself to feel outrage and sadness, for these are the things in which change are formed. You must engage, and you must open yourself – no matter the chances of injury. Fail to do this and you risk stasis and neurosis.

So what is it that I am doing here on this page? I am drawn back to the same old goal; to find inner peace; to gain self knowledge and work through matters of the psyche, to uncover some semblance of truth or meaning in the world; to discuss ideas that come to me.

Today I am glad to find myself charged once more with the energy and strength to face the darker aspects of mankind. My silence ends here.

A statement of intent

Posted in Philosophy, Prose, Ranting and rambling, Zen by Lachlan R. Dale on August 14, 2013

(Unfortunately I do not know the copyright details. I apologise.)

I’ve tried to write on this subject countless times over the last year, but the words always seemed to ring of melodrama, causing me to abandon my work in disgust. No matter. I will write this now – and if this entry lacks finesse or flowing phrase, then so be it.

This year been a hard one. The end of my last relationship almost destroyed me. Without going into detail, the end was one I somehow had never foreseen – though optimism or wilful delusion I am unsure.

Foreshadowing (and following) this break I have struggled with bouts of depression. The experience has not been pleasant, but there is good I can take from it. I’ve had many friends who’ve suffered from anxiety, depression and other forms of psychological illness over the years; I have always tried to help and understand them, and this year has certainly taken me another step forward towards that end.

I have long comforted myself with the ideals of self-knowledge and self-development. I believe there are few more important tasks in this life than growing to know – and better – yourself. Your life should be an attempt to eradicate delusion and ego; to cultivate empathy and understanding; to break down the barriers between yourself and others; to understand and accept your flaws; and ultimately to work towards a state of enlightenment (or self-actualisation).

My past struggles with nihilism and my sympathy of absurdity and existentialism has led me to view sanity as a purely relative construct. I have always found psychological illness to be comprehensible; and I seem to have a knack at working out the dynamics of the psyche.

I’ve always wondered: are the people who think deeply about existence and the meaning of life, and who struggle to find meaning in reality – are they really less sane than those who might flutter through life unaware of the reservoirs that flow deep beneath the earth? Where one struggles, the other may self-delude — surely neither situation is ‘good’, but which will result in an enlightened or higher state? Which is ‘ultimately’ ‘better’?

All of this background has helped me frame my experiences this year in a positive and constructive light. That is not to say that times haven’t been hard — I’ve reached new lows; but I’ve also experienced moments of elation (the absurd paradox of emotional relativism!). My interest in psychology has armed me with the knowledge I must confront the root of my problems; that I must dig beneath the anxiety, study the meaning of my dreams, search out my compensations and delusions, and use the framework of eastern philosophy to help defuse negative mental states.

Of course I have maintained my dedication to the use of writing, drawing and playing music for catharsis — and, unsurprisingly, this has helped me immensely. I really don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say art has helped me keep at least a semblance of sanity intact. In the course of this year I’ve written some 15+ songs, a suite of poems, pages of prose and a whole host of scrawlings.

Musically my output has had two major streams – Jackals, which is an expression of tension, stress and an exorcism of negativity; and an as-yet-unnamed acoustic project, which has moved from moments of contemplation and soul-searching to celebrations of elation and fragility. While my work with Jackals is now finally being released, my work on the acoustic project has stalled. I feel no small amount of pressure to give this avenue of expression a release.

Recently I was struck a spark of insight; firstly, that the recovery from such a major change in my life will surely take time – and that I have no reason to pressure myself in this process. Secondly, that I could do with some physical and mental space to consider things in detail. In the brief times I’ve travelled alone this year the distance has proved exceptionally beneficial.

To this end I have planned a period of solitude and contemplation in the coming weeks. I will retreat to an isolated cottage in the Blue Mountains. Located in a valley between peaks, and with no other humans in sight, this will make the perfect location for some long overdue reflection.

My goals are threefold; to relax and ease myself of all tensions; to dig deep into my psyche and attempt to resolve the fractures within; and finally, to finally record the songs that have taken up the bulk of my creative energy this year.

I will stare at stars, lie in the sun, read books, draw, write, sleep and dream. My very honest hope is that this will provide something of a resolution to an extremely difficult period in my life — and I am optimistic about this.

My absence from this blog this year speaks volumes about my state of mind — I have been too clouded and too absorbed in my own anxieties to be able to reach the state of detached contemplation that I used to enjoy so regularly. My output has been self-absorbed and full of angst — and surely of little interest to anybody.

With some luck I will return from the mountains with words, music and a cleansed soul. I will share any insights that may arise.

Coming soon: a reflection on Carl Jung’s ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’

Posted in Ranting and rambling, Zen by Lachlan R. Dale on May 9, 2013
Carl Jung - Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Carl Jung – Memories, Dreams, Reflections

I’ve been a little bit quiet of late; work, post-graduate study and music have been taking up a lot of my time. I thought I’d quickly let you know what I’ve been working on.

I’m developing a summary-of and reflection-on Carl Jung‘s autobiography ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections‘ in the hope that I can communicate some of the wisdom and exceptional ideas he developed over the course of his life.

It’s a considerable task, but one I feel is particularly important. Jung was a fascinating individual who had the incredible insight to link the psychology of the ego and the unconscious with eastern philosophy and spirituality. His work is still exceedingly relevant to people dabbling in eastern philosophy/religion today.

I’m really hoping I can do this project justice – so if you don’t hear much out of me for a while, you’ll know why.

Ideally I’d like to follow this up with some reflections/highlights of some of Hermann Hesse‘s work on philosophy, art and psychology.

The joyless and the defeated

Posted in Prose, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on April 21, 2013
By Ralph Steadman

By Ralph Steadman

I can comfortably conceive of my life as battle against The Joyless. I see them in droves; faces bloated, posture weak and hanging, constantly braying and complaining. They formulate the view that life is just one continuous plot against them; they believe they are denied what is rightfully theirs, but, lacking the energy and power to change their paths, they resign themselves to wallowing in despair.

They are The Defeated; humans who sing a warbling eulogy to their lives at every waking moment; their eyes glazed and hollow, colour and light drawn from them. These beings drain the lives of those around them. They stumble around without direction, a vacant look on their faces. Show them images from the birth of a star; the most beautiful galaxies in the universe and they would merely shrug their shoulders and resume shovelling greasy food into their faces.

They are the grazers; a mass of misery who are bent on inflicting their state on others through their social discourse. They are trapped in the well-worn lines of their thought; unthinkable they ever might displace their point of view with empathy of understanding – even momentarily. They can only dwell in their own apathetic sense of dissatisfaction, lacking the awareness to resolve the issues from which these feelings stem.

Given enough time their misery becomes all they know; their sadness becomes so banal, so commonplace that it begins to bore and sicken them – yet still they cannot escape! These are the people who pray for disaster; for car crashes; for tsunamis; for a demonstration of nature’s raw power; for war – if for nothing more than entertainment and as some absurd justification for their own melancholy mood.

I would give anything to ensure that I do not end up a passionless husk of a human secretly hoping for death but lacking the courage or conviction to end things. I see them in shopping centres and airports and pubs; these bloated and swollen men, looking hopefully and dejectedly about for someone to talk at. They want you to listen as they recall their past glories, then pull you down into their misery as they explain their fall from grace. They want you down in the gutter with them; to comprehend the sneers and conspiracies set against them. They had no choice; they surely could not have lived any other way. They are victims of circumstance; the game was rigged from the outset; they were played a bad hand.

My deepest sadness would be to become one of them; lonely, sad, deflated, completely dehydrated of any passion for life. I refuse to become one of them. My secret fear propels my onward to embrace life and love; to poetry and music; to friends and family. I pack my life to the brim in a ravenous search for meaning and contentment. Even if this state is ultimately unattainable and this search becomes the steady undercurrent of my time on this earth, then I feel those years will certainly not be wasted — but to resign yourself, to give in, to too soon anticipate a return to dust? That is surely the deepest loss for one still living.

A midnight musing

Posted in Poetry, Prose, psychology, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on April 4, 2013
Mia Taniaka

By Mia Taniaka

Some days I am blessed with warmth; my soul radiates hues of magenta and burnt orange. I walk along rows of jasmine with the sun on my skin. My heart might flutter across sweet peaks or soar upon gusts of cool, crisp air. These are moments in which all the universe resolves itself; in which I am elated by the pure contentment of being.

If these days could only be captured, I would be forever enraptured.

But other days the expanse of the sky overhead seems to close in; my skin feels no warmth, and no scent can wake me from my misery. Inside I feel a dull ache, tormented by unattainable joy. This absence becomes all-consuming; my vision turns to grey. Life is now discord; an aberration. My misery becomes a mire, and if I am not mindful I can slip deeper still into the dark fire.

I watch my breath and still my mind. Inwardly I speak; let these days pass. Let another dawn come.