The Critical Point // First Thoughts

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If I were given a single word to describe the experience of what I imagine being in outer space is like it would be “silent.”

We have few opportunities in contemporary life to be in complete silence, both literally and figuratively. Everywhere we go, there is noise. We have become so accustomed to the noise that in those rare moments when we are truly alone with only our own deep thoughts, we become unnerved, even terrified. We pick up our adult pacifiers, these devices we call “phones,” to calm our anxiety by filling the void with the cacophony of the masses all chattering at once.

When we are hungry, perhaps we having not eaten all day, we are tempted to eat a lot of whatever we are first able to find–cookies, candy, bread. We do not have the inclination to filter for health or desirability when our stomachs are empty. But upon filling ourselves with such junk, we become sick.

These two scenarios are metaphors for the way most of us live. For want of an alternative, we fill our heads with noise and our hearts with sugar.

Yet few among us would say we are leading exactly the sort of life we really want, with the achievements we desire and the fulfillment we crave. And it all seems well beyond our control to change. There is no frame of reference for understanding our unmet needs, our deep sense of boredom, or feelings of meaninglessness. Indeed, we are even encouraged by our context to ignore these sentiments.

“Better not to think about it,” we are told, both explicitly and implicitly from as early on in childhood as we can recall. “Just enjoy life the best you can–find a hobby or take some time off and travel, then you’ll feel better” is the extent of the advice we hear.

Many people take this advice seriously, and they go off in search of themselves, as if they will discover who they really are and what they really want from their lives in India or Europe or South America, that some novel sight or sound or taste will awaken in them a sense of purpose.

I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of the people I have encountered whose lives have truly changed by travel, it is they who have realized the veracity of Emerson’s observation. In my own life, I have been in the wilderness of Alaska, to exotic places in South America, and visited the old cities of Europe, and my giant has never stopped following me.

The tastes are different, but not so different. The styles are of only slight variance, the architecture of another era, but one filled with people quite like ourselves. Now, with the hyper-massification of culture in the age of global media and the Internet, what little uniqueness of places there was, is rapidly diminishing.

Traveling, you realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents. – Italo Calvino

The one place where we can stand against this shapeless dust cloud is in our own mind and will. We can set out to establish our own uniqueness, to go on a journey of the soul, one where we are not seekers, but creators, where we do not perform a part written for us in a script, but where we are the authors of the script. We write not one scene of our play, but every scene.

It is an adventure not because of what we are looking to discover, but because of what we will make, what vistas we will paint on the broad canvas of our lives.

But such a journey begins inside of ourselves. Such a journey begins with the silence of the mind, the critical point when we cease to allow the outside pressures of the world to dictate desire or direction.

We must flee from the noise to a still and quiet place where we are free to think thoughts long banished by our education and socialization.

Emerson writes that “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.”

It is not, however, an intentional conspiracy, but an accidental one. There are no self-avowedly malevolent forces trying to crush our individuality or creativity. There is no organization or person who truly benefits from the rules of society as they are written. Some people have a relative advantage because of it, but nobody’s life is better in absolute terms compared to what it would be if all people were pursuing with equal vigor the deep purpose of their lives.

Indeed, the rules of society were written with good intentions, and our institutions designed originally with good in mind. But as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

We now find ourselves in such a hell.

 

This is the first part of “The Critical Point”, an essay written by Exosphere founder Skinner Layne. It is segmented into parts and published chapter by chapter. The next chapter is “Heaven is Hell”.

You may download the full essay here.