love. week thirty.
city. new york city
The human mind must distinguish between what is inside and what is outside.
There is everything that’s ‘in here’ (me), and then everything ‘out there’ (not me).
This dichotomy is responsible for a series of further divisions: mind/matter, essence/form, soul/body, self/other, here/there, now/then.
Over the course of the last several years (if not my entire life), I’ve been furtively at work disengaging the ‘in’ from the ‘out’. I’ve been searching for and building a degree of independence for myself that allows me to stay somewhat stable even when the environment around me changes drastically.
This helps me temper my emotions, pursue long-term projects, and generally stay happy and productive. In other words, I’ve been cultivating a degree of personal freedom.
Through pure luck and instinct, I’ve been pretty successful at it. At the present moment, I’m living exactly where I want to live, with who I want to live, and exactly how I want to live. I’ve been able to so arrange my external world, so as to clear aside a wide expanse of chronological and psychological pasture for my internal world to roam.
And then, one day, just before I began this blog, I thought “well, wouldn’t it be nice if I could just reach across that divide which separates me from the world and simply pluck someone up and bring them over? Let’s do that!”
Little did I realize how high that wall had been built, how wide it stretched, and how well fortified it had become.
Over half a year later, and even as I’ve had wonderful experiences and gained new appreciations of and for the loves in my life, my internal world remains more or less cut off from my external world. I remain a stranger in my own life, in my own world.
My most significant modes of communication with the outside world are, and have probably always been, through reading and writing. Reading enables me to learn, 1-on-1, from thousands of the greatest individuals in history. And writing helps me formulate my experience and communicate it to others. (As a teenager, when I would get into a particularly nasty argument with my mother, I’d jump in the car, drive 10 minutes away, park, and then text her from my phone. Within minutes, our argument would be magically resolved. For some reason, text-based communication has always been my super power.)
At the same time, though, while reading, I maintain distance from my teachers. And through writing, I only just barely interact with my readers.
To be clear, this is not a terrible thing. It’s freedom. It’s mindfulness. It’s calmness.
But it isn’t loving.
To experience love, I need to begin dissembling that wall. I have to expose myself to the world, wagering my self in the process. I’d be giving up control over my life to the Other. To the world. To the foreign. To the mysterious.
I now realize that in order to fall in love with one woman, I first need to fall in love with the entire world.
Oof. I’m sure this is all coming out far too dramatic, so let me explain the backstory.
I’d spent the last few days feeling rather more anxious/down than usual. There wasn’t anything specific contributing to it, so I just took some space, and was letting myself ride it out. I find that these moods come in waves.
But this evening, while I was scrolling through my phone, feeling down, I decided to take my own advice and play that game I invented in like the first or second week of this project: making love to the city.
So, after my meditation, I put on some clothes, smoked a bit, put on a moody playlist, and went for a walk.
I barely made it to the corner before the weed hit.
The first thing I noticed was that the weed seemed to have sped up the meditation I had been doing. The boundaries between myself and the world began to melt. I started to notice all the people, all the buildings, everything around me. I began to identify with them all. I think the medical term for this is dissociation? I’m not sure. But my feelings of inwardness and annoyance were replaced with flutters of curiosity and joy. The world wasn’t there to control me, it’s here for me to play with! And, if I find a particular part of the world that I especially love to play with, well, I sure would like to spend more time with that part of the world, playing out our games together. The love of my life wouldn’t need to be snatched out of the world, rather she would be its greatest representative! She will be the point at which I can finally empty myself out into the world, and fill myself right back up. She would be the world par excellence. She would be its star. She would be the most worldly bit of world. And that would be what I love most about her.
But as long as I shy away from the world’s gaze, preferring instead my own private island of freedom, then allowing a partner to penetrate deep into my inner sanctum, to occupy vast quantities of my time, attention, and desires for herself… well, how could that not generate some aversion?
And it was then that I realized that in order for me to allow a single person all the way into my life, to identify myself with her and with us, I would first need to allow the whole world in, letting myself gradually sink below its surface, trusting and respecting its gentle swells and crushing currents to deliver me safely.
As a kid, I’d stand on the beach, too afraid to rush into the crashing waves. It was almost as if the sea was telling me to stay away. No, the sea was literally pushing me away. But I soon learned to accept the ocean’s challenge, I realized that it wasn't pushing me away, it was playing with me. As it turns out, fighting with the waves is far more fun than bobbing along like a dead leaf.
Fuck, what was I even trying to say?
My fear of the world, and its overwhelming power, has left me standing on the proverbial beach, cut off from love. I’m afraid of where my beloved comes from, where she may lead me. But if I accept the world, in its bottomless entirety, then what exactly do I have to be afraid of?
I’ve gone and mushed together far too many metaphors — the sea, the world, love, games — but hopefully it makes sense on some level.
To be completely honest, all of this appeared in my weed-congested mind in the flash of a second, and then my thoughts quickly went off into the murky fog that every stoner is all too familiar with.
I thought about how experiences function like an eraser on a dirty blackboard. The more you erase, the more you can understand the sections that have already been uncovered. And so, each stroke of the eraser is not only uncovering a new section, it’s uncovering all of the old sections as well.
And then I thought that maybe a rake would be a better metaphor. Like if you went through a field with a snow plow, it would clear away all of the big objects. Then if you went over it again with a rake, you’d clear away all the remaining twigs, clumps of leaves, and whatever. But then you can go over it one more time by hand and really clear everything away, down to the last leaf.
Same thing with the mind. There are certain experiences which are just entirely inaccessible to me. Like, when I was 14 there was no way that I could have understood what was troubling Kant. I’m still trying to understand. But it’s a step by step process. One idea leads to another which leads to another. I can’t skip steps. Anyways, the rake metaphor would say that my early experiences are raw, naive. It’s only once I’ve covered the same ground again and again that I can begin to notice subtleties, and finer patterns begin to emerge.
By this point I had wandered past the Eldridge Street Synagogue which they converted into a museum about the neighborhood’s history. I wondered why we keep relics and monuments around. I thought about how it adds texture to a neighborhood, giving it an ‘historic’ feel. It adds significance, which is just another way of saying that it adds meaning. A neighborhood without any history is a meaningless neighborhood. It doesn’t provide any direction, doesn’t make any suggestions, and definitely doesn’t supply a home.
Well then, I asked myself, where are the monuments of the mind? If I live in the past, like my parents who dedicate themselves to an ancient book and a zillion traditions, then I am not allowing myself to adjust to and enjoy the world as it actually is, today. But if I live in the present, as my meditation teachers would tell me to do, then life becomes empty, meaningless, like Eldridge Street without its synagogue.
The Buddha provided a path around suffering. But there are other things worth pursuing as well. Like life itself. Or humanity. Or consciousness. Or meaning. Or hope. And these things require history, and time, and past, and absence, and yes, sometimes they require suffering.
The cults of Presence are just as confused as the religions of Memory.
Somehow, I’ll have to figure out how to stay present while still preserving core memories and commitments, just like the Eldridge Street in the middle of Chinatown, holds onto its unused synagogue, a relic from a bygone world.
Oh! Just before I got back home I had one final thought:
The world, as I see it, is seen through myself. Change myself, and the world changes along with me.