is the fear of disconnection: Is there something
about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be
worthy of connection?
universal; we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame
have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to
talk about it, and the less you talk about it, the more you have
it. What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good
enough,” was excruciating vulnerability. This
idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow
ourselves to be seen, really seen.
Your phone is driving you through this journey, driving you mad, extracting value, whining like a baby, purring like a lover, bombarding you with deadening, maddening, embarrassing, outrageous claims that concern time, space, attention, credit card numbers. It copy-pastes your life into countless, unintelligible pictures that have no meaning, no audience, no purpose, but do have impact, punch, and speed.
First time I heard about KodeLife was at LPM Roma in 2012, at 8am after a long night of performances, demoed by Hexler on his laptop, having a hectic conversation with a russian artist. It gave me inspiration to dive into the shader live-coding world!
KodeLife is now released, cross-platform, and is a good starting point to experiment with shaders of all types, from vertex to fragment shaders, GL or DirectX, etc.
As inputs, you get uniform variables like mouse, time, resolution, your own textures and the mic in/wave FFT analysis.
You can use it fullscreen or send the output to Spout or Syphon.
Fragment is an open source, collaborative, web-based spectral synthesizer and live-coding platform for sounds and visuals.
A single GLSL fragment shader generate the visuals in real-time, in stereophonic mode, the red and green channel is captured by user-created vertical slices which are then fed to an additive synthesis engine which transform the slices content to sounds.
Fragment main features:
Powerful additive synthesis only limited by the processing power available
Stereophonic or monaural
MIDI IN support
Collaborative; code, slices and uniforms are shared per sessions
JIT compilation of shader code
There is three additive synthesis engine to choose from, one of which is independent from the application and can be downloaded on the homepage, it act as a server and receive slices content over the network from any clients allowing anyone to run the synthesis engine on dedicated hardware such as a Raspberry PI, it support high quality audio and is able to route the audio captured from specific slices to multiple output channels.
Fragment is aimed at artists seeking a creative environment with few limitations to experiment with, a noise-of-all-kinds software.
“Dreams without goals are just dreams. And they ultimately fuel disappointment. Goals on the road to achievement cannot be achieved without discipline and consistency. It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with what you have. And we all have that unique gift to go out and touch people, to affect people. Understand that gift, protect that gift, appreciate that gift, utilize that gift. Don’t abuse that gift, treasure it. You have it, you already have it.”
As for me, it took a few months of hardcore statue work to really find my footing and develop this sense of deep gratitude for the sliver of the population, however small, that was willing to tune their head frequencies to the Art Channel for a moment, interrupting their march to work.
That ongoing sense of appreciation shaped my constitution in a fundamental way. I didn’t just feel a fleeting sense of thanks for each generous person who stopped; I had been hammered into a gratitude-shaped vessel and would never take for granted those willing to slow down and connect.
Given the opportunity, some small consistent portion of the population will happily pay for art.
Asking is, at its core, a collaboration.
Those who can ask without shame are viewing themselves in collaboration with—rather than in competition with—the world.
Asking for help with shame says: You have the power over me.
Asking with condescension says: I have the power over you.
But asking for help with gratitude says: We have the power to help each other.
…to be sure: when you ask, there’s always the possibility of a no on the other side of the request. If we don’t allow for that no, we’re not actually asking, we’re either begging or demanding. But it is the fear of the no that keeps so many of our mouths sewn tightly shut.
Often it is our own sense that we are undeserving of help that has immobilized us. Whether it’s in the arts, at work, or in our relationships, we often resist asking not only because we’re afraid of rejection but also because we don’t even think we deserve what we’re asking for. We have to truly believe in the validity of what we’re asking for—which can be incredibly hard work and requires a tightrope walk above the doom-valley of arrogance and entitlement. And even after finding that balance, how we ask, and how we receive the answer—allowing, even embracing, the no—is just as important as finding that feeling of valid-ness.
Asking is like courtship; begging, you are already naked and panting.
Asking is an act of intimacy and trust. Begging is a function of fear, desperation, or weakness. Those who must beg demand our help; those who ask have faith in our capacity for love and in our desire to share with one another.
On the street or on the Internet, this is what makes authentically engaging an audience, from one human being to another, such an integral part of asking.
Honest communication engenders mutual respect, and that mutual respect makes askers out of beggars.
But honestly? I didn’t want to be a statue. I wanted to be a musician. I wanted to be vulnerable. Not as a character, but as myself.
While Brian drove us to out-of-town gigs, I managed the band from the passenger seat on my bulky, blue, constantly crashing Dell laptop. Managing the band didn’t mean talking to labels, agents, or publishers; we didn’t know any. Managing the band meant making friends with other freaks in other cities, finding performers to share the stage with, lining up couches to crash on, chasing down a gallery where a friend was hanging paintings and was happy to have a band play at the opening.
I’ll never forget that brief encounter. I didn’t feel like a fan meeting a rock star. I didn’t feel like a groupie. I felt like a friend.
Brian and I took great pleasure in the fact that we seemed to have created the most eclectic community of fans in Boston: art college students, vegan punks, drag queens, metalheads, academics, people who listened to National Public Radio. That meant the world to us. We didn’t want to tap a particular crowd—we didn’t want to be a hip indie band or a goth band. We wanted the people who came to the shows to feel like they were part of our weird little family, that they would never be turned away at the door for not being cool enough.
DIY is a tricky term.
I’ve been called the “Queen of DIY,” but if you’re really taking the definition of “Do It Yourself” literally, I completely fail. I have no interest in Doing It Myself. I’m much more interested in getting everybody to help me.
Minimal DIY doesn’t rely on trust; it relies on ingenuity.
Maximal DIY relies on trust and ingenuity. You have to ask with enough grace and creativity to elicit a response, and you also have to trust the people you’re asking not to ruin your recording session, not to poison your food, not to bludgeon you with a hammer as you sit in their passenger seat.
I was learning, slowly but surely, that The Media—the traditional one, at any rate—mattered less and less. The ability to connect directly, under our own umbrella, was making one thing very clear:
We were The Media.
The happiest artists I know are generally the ones who can manage to make a reasonable living from their art without having to worry too much about the next paycheck. Not to say that every artist who sits around the campfire, or plays in tiny bars, is “happier” than those singing in stadiums—but more isn’t always better. If feeling the connection between yourself and others is the ultimate goal, it can actually be harder when you are separated from your crowd by a thirty-foot barrier. The ideal sweet spot is the one in which the artist can freely share their talents and directly feel the reverberations of their artistic gifts to their community, and make a living doing that. In other words, it works best when everybody feels seen.
As artists, and as humans: if your fear is scarcity, the solution isn’t necessarily abundance. To quote Brené Brown again:
Abundance and scarcity are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of “never enough” isn’t abundance or “more than you could ever imagine.”
Which is to say, the opposite of “never enough” is simply:
It was a massive leap of faith for these people to believe that “just connecting with people,” in an authentic, non-promotional, non-monetary way, is so valuable.
But it is. It’s invaluable.
Those managers seemed really reluctant to believe that if you just trusted and listened to, talked to, and connected with the fanbase, the money and the profits would come—when the time came.
There’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen.
When you are looked at, your eyes can stay blissfully closed. You suck energy, you steal the spotlight. When you are seen, your eyes must be open, as you are seeing and recognizing your witness. You accept energy and you generate energy. You create light.
One is exhibitionism, the other is connection.
Not everybody wants to be looked at.
Everybody wants to be seen.
As we were wrapping up our two-hour conversation and were well into our second (third?) glasses of wine, she said, You know, Amanda, one thing always bothered me. Something you said when you were a teenager.
Oh, no. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good. I was a terrible teenager, an explosion of hormones and nihilism.
She can do this imitation of me as a teenager that makes me want to crawl under a table. She did it now.
You said: “MOM, I’m a REAL ARTIST. You’re NOT.”
Then she added, more kindly, You know you, Amanda, you were being a typical teenager.
I winced, and felt my neck tighten and my teeth grit down into mother-fight-or-flight mode.
She continued, But you know. You would say, “I’m an ARTIST…fuck you, Mom! What do you know?! You’re just a computer programmer.”
I had to admit…I could totally imagine myself saying that as a teenager. Maybe not the “fuck you, Mom” part. But still.
And then my mother said something that absolutely demolished my defensiveness. I don’t think, in all the years I’ve known her, that I’ve ever heard her sound more vulnerable.
You know, Amanda, it always bothered me. You can’t see my art, but…I’m one of the best artists I know. It’s just…nobody could ever see the beautiful things I made. Because you couldn’t hang them in a gallery.
Anthony once told me: It wasn’t what you say to people, it’s more important what you do with them. It’s less important what you do with them then the way you’re with them.
We have a fucked-up relationship with artists.
While artists are, on one hand, applauded for their awe-inspiring, life-changing works of art, they’re simultaneously eyed with suspicion, disdain, and other sentiments of the GET A JOB variety. Look at the media: we deify artists one second, demonize them the next. Artists internalize this and perpetuate the cycle; artists do this to each other, and they do it to themselves.
It’s no wonder artists have such a difficult time maintaining the romantic standard they try to achieve not just to please others but to hit their own internal bar that was set early on, when they were just starting to grasp their artistic identity. It’s no wonder that so many artists crack under the pressure, go crazy, do drugs, kill themselves, or change their names and move into hiding on remote islands.
Artists can get mentally trapped in The Garret, that romantic vortex where painters, writers, and musicians find themselves stuck in a two-dimensional nightmare starring their own image. You know The Garret. It’s a candlelit attic room, where the artist sits with a pen, a paintbrush, slaving away. Alone. Drunk. Chain-smoking. Creating. Agonizing. Probably wearing a scarf.
The artistic workspace is real and necessary, but it takes on every shape imaginable, […]
A balanced artist knows when to hide in The Garret, when to throw the windows open, and when to venture out into the hallway to the kitchen, where society exists. Most important is the understanding that there are no rules—what works on one day, for one song, won’t work the next.
Once the art is finished there is a new challenge. Down to the ground floor and out the front door, you have the marketplace. It’s loud down there. The stalls of exchange, the sound of bargaining and bartering and clanging cash registers. It’s crass and mundane compared to The Garret—no matter what your version of The Garret looks like—where the art gets dreamed up.
Some artists need to create in complete peace, but all artists are now empowered by technology to open the front door and chronicle their backstage and behind-the-scenes working processes. More importantly, they’re equipped to distribute the work themselves, sharing their writing, their music, and their digitally reproducible wares infinitely and at their own will—without printing presses, without CD manufacturers, without movie theaters. The art goes from the artists’ lips or pen to the audiences’ ears and eyes. But in order to share directly, the artist still has to leave The Garret and head down into the bustling marketplace, and that’s the catch: the marketplace is where you have to deal with people. To many artists, people are scary.
In The Age Of The Social Artist, the question echoes everywhere: what about the introverted or antisocial artists who have no desire to leave The Garret and enter the marketplace? What about the singers who don’t want to tweet, the novelists who don’t want to blog? What will happen to the reclusive J. D. Salingers of the world?
The marketplace is messy; it’s loud and filled with disease and pickpockets and naysayers and critics. For almost any artist, carrying your work through the stalls of exchange can be painful.
But there is another option, which is to yell from your window. You can call down to your potential friends outside, your comrades in art and metaphor and dot-connecting, and invite them to a private party in your garret.
This is the essence of crowdfunding.
It’s about finding your people, your listeners, your readers, and making art for and with them. Not for the masses, not for the critics, but for your ever-widening circle of friends. It doesn’t mean you’re protected from criticism. If you lean out that window and shout down to find your friends, you might get an apple chucked at your head. But if your art touches a single heart, strikes a single nerve, you’ll see people quietly heading your way and knocking on your door. Let them in. Tell them to bring their friends up. If possible, provide wine.
If you’re not social—and a lot of artists aren’t—you’ll have a harder time. Risk is the core cost of human connection. In most cases, the successfully independent antisocial artist pairs with an advocate to shout the message down to the street. Sometimes it’s a record label. Sometimes it’s a patron. Sometimes it’s a best friend.
Art and commerce have never, ever been easy bedfellows. The problems inherent in mashing together artistic expression and money don’t go away, they just change form. Nowadays a lot of apples get chucked at artists who try to get help through crowdfunding: Stop self-promoting. It’s shameless! Those words poke at the emotions most artists are already struggling with. That fear of being called shameless is what makes us think twice about sharing our work with ANYBODY in the first place.
No art or artist exists in a vacuum. Although artists may have access to all the latest social media tools, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all eager to use them. At least now there is a choice: you can either leave The Garret, or you can invite everybody in with you, or you can send somebody out on your behalf to round up your crowd and drag them up the stairs.
A warning: With every connection you make online, there’s more potential for criticism. For every new bridge you build with your community, there’s a new set of trolls who squat underneath it.
Fame doesn’t buy trust. Only connection does that.
Effective crowdfunding is not about relying on the kindness of strangers, it’s about relying on the kindness of your crowd.
There’s a difference.
My relationship with my fans is like a friendship. I have faced a slew of screwups over the years: accidentally double-booked shows, mail-order albums that shipped five or six months late. But most of the time, if I explain the backstory and the behind-the-scenes logistics of the situation, the audience stands with me. I’ve apologized tons of times. The only thing I must not do is break the code of honesty and steady, forthright contact. You can fix almost anything by authentically communicating.
My theory: one of the biggest reasons people usually want to help an artist is because they really want…to help an artist. Not get a fancy beer cozy. If they make the decision to help, they will help at the level at which they are able, no matter what token, flower, or simple thank-you awaits them at the other end.
I emailed a pal at Kickstarter to see if they had any hard evidence to support this, and indeed, they had the numbers: Since Kickstarter began, 887,256 backers have asked for the artists to refrain from sending them any kind of reward—which represents a little over 14 percent of their user base.
Sometimes people just want to help. You never know until you ask.
His Kickstarter didn’t get funded. It more than didn’t get funded: it only raised $132 of a $7,000 goal, from three backers. I was one of them.
Hundreds of thousands of people had enjoyed Walt’s work on YouTube, but he hadn’t cultivated a long-term relationship with them, he hadn’t yet built a bridge of exchange between himself and his potential supporters.
There isn’t always a crowd from which you can fund. Sometimes you just don’t know until you jump.
Asking for help requires authenticity, and vulnerability.
Those who ask without fear learn to say two things, with or without words, to those they are facing:
I deserve to ask
You are welcome to say no.
Because the ask that is conditional cannot be a gift.
Glitch art is about breaking through some of the assumptions and interfaces that govern our relationship to computers and through this kind of playful experimentation reorient our understanding of digital technologies. (Nick Briz)
“If the culture industry used to make consumers imitate commodities (see Horkheimer/Adorno), then social media turns this act of imitation into a commodity of its own. Separation is no longer a product of this process, but its raw material: it is not perfected until it is shared.”
Sebastian Lütgert via pirate cinema berlin newsletter
When I was promoted to the rank of professor, the library at the university where I was then employed asked me to send them the name of a book that had been useful to me in my career. I chose VS Naipaul’s Finding the Center. The library then purchased a copy, which was duly displayed in one of its rooms, with a statement I had written about the book:
This was one of the first literary autobiographies that I read. Its very first sentence established in my mind the idea of writing as an opening in time or a beginning; it conveyed to me, with its movement and rhythm, a history of repeated striving, and of things coming together, at last, in the achievement of the printed word: “It is now nearly thirty years since, in a BBC room in London, on an old BBC typewriter, and on smooth, ‘non-rustle’ BBC script paper, I wrote the first sentence of my first publishable book.”
This first sentence—about a first sentence—created an echo in my head. It has lasted through the twenty years of my writing life. The ambition and the anxiety of the beginner is there at the beginning of each book. Every time I start to write, I am reminded of Naipaul’s book.
But that wasn’t the whole truth, neither about Naipaul, nor about beginnings. The sentence I had quoted had mattered to me, yes, and so had the book, but what had really helped was Naipaul’s telling an interviewer that in an effort to write clearly, he had turned himself into a beginner: “It took a lot of work to do it. In the beginning I had to forget everything I had written by the age of 22. I abandoned everything and began to write like a child at school. Almost writing ‘the cat sat on the mat’. I almost began like that.”
And I did that too, almost. About a decade ago, soon after I had received tenure, Tehelka asked me to come aboard as a writer. I was visiting my parents in India at that time. It was winter, and I went to the Tehelka office to talk to the editors.
Later, when we were done, I was taken around for a tour of the place. There was a pen-and-ink portrait of Naipaul on the wall because he was one of the trustees. And high above someone’s computer was a sheet of paper that said “VS Naipaul’s Rules for Beginners”.
These were rules for writing. It was explained to me that Naipaul was asked by the Tehelka reporters if he could give them some basic suggestions for improving their language. Naipaul had come up with some rules. He had fussed over their formulation, corrected them and then faxed back the corrections. I was told that I could take the sheet if I wanted.
A few days later, I left India and the sheet travelled with me, folded in the pages of a book that I was reading. In the books and weeks that followed, I began writing a regular literary column for Tehelka, and in those pieces, I tried to work by Naipaul’s rules.
The rules were a wonderful antidote to my practice of using academic jargon, and they made me conscious of my own writing habits. I was discovering language as if it were a new country.
Like a traveller in a new place, I asked questions, took notes and began to arrange things in a narrative. I followed the rules diligently for at least a year, and my book Bombay–London–New York was a product of the writing I did during that period.
Here then are “VS Naipaul’s Rules for Beginners”:
Do not write long sentences.
A sentence should not have more than 10 or 12 words.
Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.
Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.
Never use words whose meanings you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.
The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.
Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.
Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.
In their simplicity and directness, I do not think the above rules can be improved upon. A beginner should take them daily, like a dose of much-needed vitamins. Of course, rules can never be a substitute for what a writer can learn, should learn, simply by sitting down and writing. But I offer my own students rules all the time. On the first day of my writing class this year, I handed out xeroxed sheets of rules by Ray Bradbury, not least because he offers the valuable advice that one should write a short story each week for a whole year. Why? “It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”
I have also prepared my own list of rules for my students. My list isn’t in any way a presumption of expertise, and is offered only as evidence of experience. I intend to teach by example. These habits have worked for me and I want my students to use them to cultivate the practice of writing.
If you have read this essay so far, you are probably a writer. That is what you should write in the blank space where you are asked to identify your occupation. I say this also for another reason. Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Those words scared the living daylights out of me. I thought of the days passing, days filled with my wanting to write, but not actually writing. I had wasted years.
Each day is a struggle, and the outcome is always uncertain, but I feel as if I have reversed destiny when I have sat down and written my quota for the day. Once that work is done, it seems okay to assume that I will spend my life writing.
Illustration: Hazel Karkaria / By Two Design
Here then are my rules:
1. Write every day. This is a cliché, of course, but you will write more when you tell yourself that no day must pass without writing. At the back of a notebook I use in my writing class, I write down the date and then make a mark next to it after the day’s work is done. I show the page to my students often, partly to motivate them, and partly to remind myself that I can’t let my students down.
2. Have a modest goal. Aim to write 150 words each day. It is very difficult for me to find time on some days, and it is only this low demand that really makes it even possible to sit down and write. On better days, this goal is just a start; often, I end up writing more.
3. Try to write at the same time each day. I recently read a Toni Morrison interview in which she said: “I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively.” It works best for me if I write at the same time each day—in my case, that hour or two that I get between the time I drop off my kids at school and go in to teach. I have my breakfast and walk up to my study with my coffee. In a wonderful little piece published on The New Yorker blog “Page-Turner”, writer Roxana Robinson writes how she drinks coffee quickly and sits down to write—no fooling around reading the paper, or checking the news, or making calls to friends, or trying to find out if the plumber is coming. “One call and I’m done for. Entering into the daily world, where everything is complicated and requires decisions and conversation, means the end of everything. It means not getting to write.” I read Robinson’s piece in January 2013, and alas, I have thought of it nearly every day since.
4. Turn off the Internet. The Web is a great resource and entirely unavoidable, but it will help you focus when you buy the Freedom app. Using a device like this not only rescues me from easy distraction, it also works as a timer. When you click on the icon, it asks you to choose the duration for which you want the computer to not have access to the Net. I choose 60 minutes and this also helps me keep count of how long I have sat at my computer.
5. Walk for ten minutes. Or better yet, go running. If you do not exercise regularly, you will not write regularly—or not for long. I haven’t been good at doing this and have paid a price with trouble in my back. I have encouraged my students to go walking too, and have sometimes thought that when I have to hold lengthy consultations with my writing class, I should go for walks with them on our beautiful campus.
6. A bookshelf of your own. Choose one book, or five, but no more than ten, to guide you, not with research necessarily, but with the critical matter of method or style. Another way to think about this is to ask yourself who are the writers, or scholars, or artists, that you are in conversation with. I use this question to help arrive at my own subject matter, but it also helps with voice.
7. Get rid of it if it sounds like grant talk. I don’t know about you, but I routinely produce dead prose when I’m applying for a grant. The language used in applications must be abhorred: stilted language, jargon, etc. I’m sure there is a psychological or sociological paper to be written about the syntax and tone common in such things—the appeal to power, lack of freedom—but in my case it might just be because, with the arrival of an application deadline, millions of my brain cells get busy committing mass suicide.
8. Learn to say no. This applies equally to the friendly editor who asks for a review or an essay, even to the friend who is editing an anthology. Say no if it takes you away from the writing you want to do. My children are small and don’t take no for an answer, but everyone who is older is pretty understanding. And if they’re understanding, they’ll know that for you occasional drinks or dinner together are more acceptable distractions.
9. Finish one thing before taking up another. Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas for any future book, but complete the one you are working on first. This rule has been useful to me. I followed it after seeing it on top of the list of Henry Miller’s “Commandments”. It has been more difficult to follow another of Miller’s rules: “Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.”
10. The above rule needs to be repeated. I have done shocking little work when I have tried to write two books at once. Half-finished projects seek company of their own and are bad for morale. Shut-off the inner editor and complete the task at hand.
The root of our human frustration and daily anxiety is our tendency to live for the future, which is an abstraction.
What keeps us from happiness is our inability to fully inhabit the present.
The “primary consciousness,” the basic mind which knows reality rather than ideas about it, does not know the future. It lives completely in the present, and perceives nothing more than what is at this moment. The ingenious brain, however, looks at that part of present experience called memory, and by studying it is able to make predictions. These predictions are, relatively, so accurate and reliable (e.g., “everyone will die”) that the future assumes a high degree of reality — so high that the present loses its value.
But the future is still not here, and cannot become a part of experienced reality until it is present. Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements — inferences, guesses, deductions — it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilization are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more. Happiness, then, will consist, not of solid and substantial realities, but of such abstract and superficial things as promises, hopes, and assurances.
Watts argues that our primary mode of relinquishing presence is by leaving the body and retreating into the mind — that ever-calculating, self-evaluating, seething cauldron of thoughts, predictions, anxieties, judgments, and incessant meta-experiences about experience itself.
Working rightly, the brain is the highest form of “instinctual wisdom.” Thus it should work like the homing instinct of pigeons and the formation of the fetus in the womb — without verbalizing the process or knowing “how” it does it. The self-conscious brain, like the self-conscious heart, is a disorder, and manifests itself in the acute feeling of separation between “I” and my experience. The brain can only assume its proper behavior when consciousness is doing what it is designed for: not writhing and whirling to get out of present experience, but being effortlessly aware of it.
Paradoxically, recognizing that the experience of presence is the only experience is also a reminder that our “I” doesn’t exist beyond this present moment, that there is no permanent, static, and immutable “self” which can grant us any degree of security and certainty for the future — and yet we continue to grasp for precisely that assurance of the future, which remains an abstraction. Our only chance for awakening from this vicious cycle, Watts argues, is bringing full awareness to our present experience — something very different from judging it, evaluating it, or measuring it up against some arbitrary or abstract ideal.
If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Yet it is this very sense of separateness which makes me feel insecure. To be secure means to isolate and fortify the “I,” but it is just the feeling of being an isolated “I” which makes me feel lonely and afraid. In other words, the more security I can get, the more I shall want.
… the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath.
I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split in two pieces. There must be a good “I” who is going to improve the bad “me.” “I,” who has the best intentions, will go to work on wayward “me,” and the tussle between the two will very much stress the difference between them. Consequently “I” will feel more separate than ever, and so merely increase the lonely and cut-off feelings which make “me” behave so badly.
Happiness isn’t a matter of improving our experience, or even merely confronting it, but remaining present with it in the fullest possible sense:
The notion of a separate thinker, of an “I” distinct from the experience, comes from memory and from the rapidity with which thought changes.
When you see clearly that memory is a form of present experience, it will be obvious that trying to separate yourself from this experience is as impossible as trying to make your teeth bite themselves.
The real reason why human life can be so utterly exasperating and frustrating is not because there are facts called death, pain, fear, or hunger. The madness of the thing is that when such facts are present, we circle, buzz, writhe, and whirl, trying to get the “I” out of the experience. We […] try to protect ourselves from life by splitting in two. Sanity, wholeness, and integration lie in the realization that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate “I” or mind can be found.
Luka Prinčič: a musician, sound & media artist, engineer and dj. My sound goes from broken bass to noise, drone and sonic experiments. I'm one half of Wanda & Nova deViator, I run Kamizdat label and work at Emanat institute. I'm passionate about critical art expressions, free software, social awareness, cyberpunk, and peculiarity of contemporary human condition.
Like what you hear, see, read? Making music and art takes many hours of hard work and releasing it to the commons means less income from sales. Consider a per-release patronage at Patreon, a regular anonymous donation via LiberaPay, or paying for some free music at Bandcamp. Every single ¢ counts.