“Eyes attach to your mute portrait. We spoke only through thoughts. Together we gazed, awaited. Hours brought thirst, and the rising sun…”
-Black Rose Immortal, Opeth
Another day. Another thought. Another night.
Are we truly autonomous to our thoughts and emotions?
As a highly emotionally driven person, I definitely think with my heart which sparks my rationality in the situation. Emotions are so complex; It is a mystery that is by no means solved, but one that repays careful, philosophical analysis or at least my own analysis in understanding this part of myself. We, excluding the rare exceptions of extreme psychopaths, have all felt the hand of a certain emotion caress our thoughts that has led us to act or rather not act upon the emotional situation. Interpersonal or intrapersonal experiences trigger our emotional responses and create such complexity within us that breaks our rational understanding of simplicity in feeling. These characteristics are so profound that it makes us so uniquely human. Philosophers and other great thinkers have pondered countlessly on what it is to be human leading to at least one similarity: most believe that in order to be a human, more exclusively a “person”, one must have autonomy. The question is now, are we autonomous towards our emotions? Do we really have a sense of self-governing power? Or is our will compromised without our conscious knowledge?
These questions have led to countless hours of prolong analyzation of my own feelings, others’ feelings, and even trying to imagine a stranger’s feelings. Perhaps it is to most of you a foolish waste of intellectual energy to try to understand what it is that makes people “tick”, what it is that makes them “respond” but it has created a great deal of curiosity within myself. “Curiouser and curiouser” as to quote a perplexed Alice when she discovers she is in Wonderland. A world of such detailed emotion lives inside, governing our responses, actions, and interactions in us all but most of the time we are so self-absorbed within our own specific reality we fail to see all the other worlds around us experiencing their own set of emotions. An argument can be brought to attention regarding the notion that most of us have a basic understanding that leads us to believe we can sense others’ emotions—a basic primitive level of empathy perhaps we have developed in order to keep our personal relationships manageable. After all, nature dictates us to be social beings and to assist those needs we must have some clue as to know how to react towards another or situation. Some of us have developed great empathetic skills; I believe I have high interpersonal skills as sometimes I literally feel the sensation of others when there is a high frequency of emotions. The point however is we are usually capped in understanding emotion. If there is one thing we as individuals could learn a lot from it is most definitely perception. Perception is key, in my opinion, to understanding and not just feeling.
To feel is not a direct correlation to understanding. Take for instance the word passion originally referred to suffering. Its meaning over time has been generalized but the underlying meaning is still the same: passion is something powerful that happens inside us. It renders us to say it can “strike” us, “paralyze” us, “consume” us; or we “fall into”, “give into”, etc. We can say we suffer from its desires to lead us to want an action. Our passions may be happy passions or dreadful ones. They are reactions out of our control. I believe that in dealing with these passions we can understand them better if we separate ourselves from them as Freud described them as an unconscious “it” giving it a distinction of its own outside of our conscious realm. These “outside forces” inside us produce a various amount of effects in how we process and view things.
A way to further understand why I have come to the realization that these are truly outside forces within our self, is to understand how the brain functions. When we are passionate about something, our brain has registered this as a goal. To be clear when I mean passionate, I have used the word loosely here because it can also refer to any emotion we have that may not always reach the classification of “passion” to us. A goal to us is something we want to actually achieve. At times though, we conflict our brain with what it is that we want. To us it is clear but we forget how this applies inside our minds. Think of it this way, when we feel sad, happy, fear, love, anger, or any other emotion you can think of, you are applying a lot of focus which is why there is so much energy built to feeling that emotion so strongly. When our mind establishes a goal, we produce a great amount of dopamine to keep that focus there. Our dopamine system acts like a reward system to govern what we want. We do things because this system gives us the incentive to do so. We never have goals to pursue a failed investment, a tragic love affair, or a bad decision consciously. All our negative emotions to do such things are caused by our applied focus to them. We confuse our brain into thinking our goal is that negative outcome without consciously wanting it.
Recently, I took a philosophy class for fun that focused on the mind of an addict. This led me to see how similar the brain can process other things. Think of an addict; a poor addict had a choice at first to try a drug but after a while, it became enslaved by it because it has hijacked the brain into feeling the reward of taking the drug as opposed to other goals as it has changed the brain chemistry. To an extent, this person is no longer who they were completely. It completely changed the subconscious priority system of goals. The desires are in conflict between “I want to take the drug” and “I want stop this because it is wrong”. These conflicting desires compromise the will. How are you even in charge of your own will when your biological responses are altered to work against you? Now, now. I am a firm believer that you can do anything and stop something if you truly wish to. To the mind of a non-addict, the idea of addiction is usually not understood. This is when I welcome in the next example: an addict is similar to a lover in the midst of deep infatuation. It would be the same to ask a person deeply stagnated in the infatuation love stage that they have the option to stop loving that person. Of course they do, but they as the addict have altered their brain’s goal system to lead them to this reaction. These are extreme reactions of course but the brain still works the same in more simple examples: you like to eat chips; your brain creates the focus needed to lead you to your goal. It seems silly to compare but the functionality is still the same but obviously greater levels of dopamine are released towards the previous examples because more focus was applied to them.
These bring the idea of autonomy into play. How can you ever truly be autonomous with emotions? You are governed by your emotions to do things you never even wished to do at times. Your emotions dictate you to feel sad or happy towards a situation. You perhaps had an option at one time to turn away but after a prolong period of time, your brain registered this as a new goal. Buddha once said that you become what you think and by these means, yes apparently you do. An invisible leash is placed on your freedom of will. You are enslaved by your emotions and your emotions can change who you are (sometimes). This idea fascinates me. Clearly, I have placed too much thought on something everyone experiences and disregards unless it has reached a more existential level within their own lives.
Each time I see myself become trapped inside an emotion, I remember how this is actually playing out in my mind and it really makes me wonder. Why we are wired to love fear. We are natural addicts of fear. Drama, sadness, anger, and every other emotion you can think of that runs in the wavelength of fear is so intoxicating and so alluring to our minds, one can lose themselves. My rationality is quite fully aware of how I am addicting my mind to fear but I cannot stop it. Like a muscle, my will to remain strong weakens after using it so long. The key is awareness to stop the habitual anxiety and fear. Understand them and not letting yourself become a victim to the pleasures of your mind. The mind, a tool of such great importance to us but such it is that the mind that brings you great intelligence and crowns you, also crucify you to your greatest fears. One thing we all must keep in mind: When love is your motivation, almost anything can be achieved because just like fear, it truly is addicting to the brain. First, however, it may be necessary to learn the difference between love and control. Love and guilt. Love and fear. Love and attraction. Love and hate. Some are more obvious than others but at times other emotions masquerade in us and we don’t know anymore what it is we feel. Love cannot be bought, sold, manipulated, or controlled in any way. Failure to understand this has produced the mistaken belief that love hurts. Love can never hurt! It is not the definition of love and if it does hurt, you are switching to fear which carries the same passion and is easier to feel. It is only the loss of love that hurts. And it is our great fear of losing love that causes us to hold on to it too tightly. And then, love itself gets hurt. However, blame and anger may have to be expressed in order to realize that forgiveness is necessary. I find analyzing these things helps with the “insanity”. “Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.”–No truer words have ever been spoken but this doesn’t mean we have to be pulled down by what feels is something that is outside of our control! Knowledge gives you strength. Stopping a habit, let alone one that reaches to existential addiction is hard, but never say never as the cliché goes.
The brain is a wonderful double edge sword. It crowns us and then crucifies us. There is still so much to know about the human mind, emotions, and everything in between. It truly makes us human’s, perfectly flawed, an art. As art, we are, and will always be misunderstood, interpreted differently, and versatile. I guess, I started this by trying to understand emotion. I still want to and I will probably think about this until my own reasoning is satisfied, but it comes back full circle each time. Feeling is like art; You can’t always understand but you can observe and perhaps trying to understand it, would kill it. So maybe, the technicalities would ruin something that maybe shouldn’t be understood. You welcome the seasons but would you welcome the grief of winter to your fields? (paraphrased but a quote from my favorite writer).I may speak gibberish, I may go off on random navel gazing, and topics of no real importance but I do know one thing and it drives my thinking: I love Love.
You can strip a man of his wealth, but you cannot strip a man of his education.
“Good riddance” is what I murmured to myself as my name was called. It was finally real. All the anxiety, all the depression, and all the self-chosen hate was over. A very humorous thought because it’s not like it mattered. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but no longer was I subjugated to be in an environment that bolstered my cynicism. It was unfortunate, really, because I love to learn and I love to be challenged. Yet here I was graduating from college and I felt so unfulfilled—so ungrateful to have this opportunity and to leave feeling like this. Of course, I would also be lying if I told you that I wasn’t proud of myself. I was. I was ecstatic about finally turning this page of my life and starting a new chapter. The problem was that I felt it wasn’t my goals we were celebrating. This was not an achievement of my love or passion, but of my expectation. I was living someone else’s happiness… talk about first world problems! But being surrounded by such hopeful faces, and all those loved ones cheering me on, it made me silence those thoughts. This was still my day even if my douche-bag brain was trying to convince me otherwise. I did, after all, earn my bachelor of the arts in Economics. Go figure.
“I’m proud of you”, said my dad. Oh, thanks. It only took a degree to get you to tell me those words. But it was Father’s Day as well, and I love my dad even though he always pushed his unrealistic expectations on me and made me feel insecure about my goals, looks, and who I was. I know he meant well deep down and I can’t resent him. I mean, after all, ultimately I had a choice and I decided to go down that path. Instead of bringing up old wounds, I hugged him and said, “Thank you, dad. I love you.”
And the next day, it was really over.
I was just another college graduate about to embark the job market. All I could think about was numbers, percentages, and statistics–I hate numbers, well not always, but still. Goes to show you just how hypocritical my brain is: I considered myself to be a lot of things–one of them being a creative odd ball with a yearning for knowledge, but I thought about college as an investment rather than an education. And just to be clear, it’s not because I believed that it should be that way. Not at all. Unfortunately for us new graduates, the job market is not what it used to be. Generation X had the luxury thinking about college as a degree is a degree, but us Millennials have to be smarter because college is now expected of us. It is no longer just a degree, but a “requirement” that doesn’t really even get you hired now. Some will argue with me that you can go to school for what you love, but I thought of my constraints: loans because I’m poor; short run vs long run reward because what I want now may not be the same in 20 years; and versatility because I don’t want to have something that limits me. There are a limited supply of “entry level” jobs in a market that is overly saturated with college grads every year fighting for those limited spots that I tried to see it as a business thing.
Some people have the blessing to be able to consider going to school for something they love, but seeing my family struggle and I had a cold sense of reality (at the time). I could not be as selfish as to satisfy my ego when one day I would love to own a home, give my future children a life I didn’t have, and secure a retirement fund. My goal was to be “financially stable” and to have money to do the hobbies I loved without the fear of income. In the short run, I’d hate that I got an “efficient” major, but in the long run, I’d have a better chance at a solid career. Ironic, isn’t it? I despised my economics degree, but I always thought like an economist; I always thought of investments, opportunity costs, and viewed things as finite resources.
Logic, Chaos, Logic
The summer that followed was bleak. In my life, I can say there have only been two instances that I’ve legitimately been depressed, and that was one. I felt blank—those months I ached for my dreams to come to me. And although my love life was blossoming again, I felt as if I had no identity. I spent my days applying for jobs, and wondering why I didn’t choose a major I loved and not focused so much on being “financially stable”. I was both angry and sad. I thought that maybe doing things the “smart” way would eventually lead me to where I had to be. I sacrificed what I wanted and who I was for a better future. I was mentally and emotionally drained in the process—and in the process, I let go of myself. I envy people that lose weight when depressed; I get fat. It’s a vicious cycle.
I was always extremely hard on myself. But now, I was wondering why? I graduated slightly later than my peers since I was 26. Sure my class was probably in the same boat as me, but the majority of them were 21 or 22, they had a few years to fudge around… I was closer to 30. A reality I ignored when I was pursuing my school degree, but now in my face. Career wise I was just like them—even worse, I had debt and some of them didn’t because they had parents that paid for their living expenses while they were in school. And I thought, I should of just picked a degree I liked and graduated sooner. A thought that just added insult to injury. But I could not do this to myself any longer. I am NOT a victim, and it was time to reset my sails and adjust to the new route: fuck it all! Let’s make it happen.
My lesson learned was that even if I tried to plan for the best, I cannot control the job market… or life for that matter. I had to forgive myself for all those years I foolishly tried to control outcomes.
A whole year later, and I am so happy for it all and wish nothing but the best for those graduating class of 2014. If I could travel back in time, I’d tell 18 year old me, that those years in college will not be in vain. Sure, college isn’t necessary to land a job, but the experience you get is priceless. Be smart, but don’t spend it worrying about what you will be doing 20 years from now. Understand you can’t change the job market. Some don’t have to pay their dues, and others do, but just enjoy your life and you’ll get there. But I can’t go back in time and it’s ok. I always loved learning; I just hated the fact that the educational institution was a business. And even though I am not an “econ major” at heart, in hindsight, it did open my eyes to the rest of the world. I used to see it as negative thing, but because of it, I want to change the world.
And I will.
“Coming generations will learn equality from poverty, and love from woes”.
– Khalil Gibran
Yesterday, I had a fulfilling experience when a few of my coworkers and I volunteered to babysit children for a local non-profit, Solutions For Change. They’re dedicated to finding solutions for family homelessness. The purpose of Babysitting Night was to provide the parents of these children an opportunity to learn work and real-life skills.
When we arrived, we didn’t really know what to expect. As we saw the children come in, they ranged in age from infants to elementary school aged children. These children were quite the handful, but they were so charming because of their sassy nature! I fell in love with them; there were a set of 7 month old triplets named “P-nut”, “Tiara”, and “Cheeks” that belonged to a single mother that already had a little 6 year old boy! Seeing these kids made me think of how unfair this was. These children didn’t deserve this. They haven’t had a chance to “fail” or make bad choices. But, when I met their parents, I was humbled. The perseverance of these families to never give up at the face of adversity made me understand what strength is. Perhaps it may have been bad choices that led them there or just bad luck, but they had a positive attitude and were here to change. And I left thankful, because even though it sounds cheesy, they taught me what patience is.
But today, I went to a business luncheon to represent my company and was surrounded by the opposite: seasoned financial advisors and banking professionals; and successful entrepreneurs and business owners. I was excited to speak with everyone because this was my FIRST real networking event. Sure, I had done mock up networking mixers at my University, but this was the real thing! I was nervous because everyone was much older and looked more professional–I felt so under dressed because I was told to go last minute and was not prepared. As I networked with them, they spoke of their achievements and of their accomplishments, initially I felt intimidated because I was a baby in the career world, but it went away after a while because I decided to imagine them with chicken bodies and their human heads. When the speakers went on, a professor of economics spoke about the market sector and gave his insight to curious business owners. It was as if I was back in my economics class again and it made me feel strangely very happy like after all those years I finally appreciated economics.
It was all good and I received a fancy free lunch out of it! When I left, I thought to myself about those two recent experiences: how interesting that success can have so many different definitions?
I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way. -Carl Sandburg
Earlier today, I had a visit from the IT guy. He had brought in my new, well sort-of-new, computer to replace the pre-historic HP I had. She had her run, but it was time to go. I, of course, wasn’t prepared at all for the switch and had files all over the place. As he starts to go to work, he silently shakes his head. He turns over his shoulder and politely tells me, “Your desktop is so…artistic.” This was in reference to all the scattered documents that covered all of my computer’s desktop. I could tell it irked him, but when I’m uploading stuff constantly, it’s just easier to save onto the desktop and I guess I didn’t notice it had taken over my screen. As he passed my files onto my new computer, he noticed the mountain of paper documents next to him and smirks, “Oh, so is your desk!”
“Yeah…” but then with that as-a-matter of fact voice I affirmed, ” …well you know, this is just a manifestation of my thoughts!”
A blank face stared back as I waited for a response. And although I was kidding, in ways I wasn’t really lying. I’m a mental hoarder and I bet if I could see my brain it would look like my desktop screen. Not because I think I’m smart; it would look like that because of all the random stuff I think of throughout the day. If only I could look into my brain, I would like to imagine that it’d be something like a library with half-written documents and a bunch of crumbled up papers; full of mostly empty bookshelves with its books laying open with missing bookmarks. I could still imagine a few books covered in cob-webs untouched on the shelves and for some reason, I also think it would smell like an old library too. This may be a ridiculous thought, but it would be pretty cool if I could split into two, shrink, and literally visit my thoughts. Like a cross between the Magic School Bus meets Tool’s music video for Schism… Or maybe I’m giving myself too much credit, and it just looks like a desolate junk yard filled with trash, broken parts, and some rare lost treasures.
“Alright, all set.”
And like that, he brought me back to reality. The rest of the day was spent creating copy and content for our product launch. Pretty productive day if you ask me.
“Suddenly, life has new meaning”– Burzum, Dunkelheit
I decided to count how many people I see on my way to work today. I stopped when I reached over 100 because my ADD kicked in–which is actually pretty interesting that I’d count for that long. But it made me think; isn’t it interesting how we block out most of our surroundings? Our brains are so selective and picky at we consciously notice. The subconscious holds so much that it makes you wonder what else is left behind? Within seconds, our brain filters through what is important and meaningful to us. And we become it.
We are our thoughts. And if you’re like me, it can even become your hobby. But why do I think what I think is meaningful? I saw over a 100 strangers even before I arrived to work. These are things that I don’t notice every day, and chances are, they don’t either. Life passes me by everyday, but I only focus on the same things. What was only supposed to be today’s trivial curiosity brought up an old topic: why? Are my goals, my passions, and my life an internal or external result? Those people reminded me that I choose to see what I see. These strangers also have hopes and fears. They’re little universes walking around me that I don’t validate on a daily basis because they aren’t apart of mine. Of course, I know they exist, but it’s so easy to disregard that there are billions of people on this earth that will wake up and live an entirely different existence than me.
What would life be like if I had different choices, or none at all? I have the luxury of thought that has given me the gift individuality and has molded my dreams, but it has also caused me so much anxiety and depression because I can choose; I can succeed or fail. I know there are exceptions, and nothing is just black and white, but what if I only had one option like other people may have? To this day, I still remember reading that 97% of births will belong to developing countries–am I lucky to be part of that 3%? My biased brain would love to argue that logically and reasonably, yes I am. But I also know, happiness can sometimes just be a chemical in your brain. If you’re lucky to have higher levels of it naturally, you’ll make do with what you have and with what you know and adversely, if it’s low, you’ll always feel something is missing even if you have it all.
But, I am what I am. And they are what they are. And while these questions will never be answered, and aren’t really “new”, at least thinking about it made my Monday go by faster.
…And today was a good day.