Continuing from “Heaven is Hell”:
Recovering ourselves from this extraordinary self-deception is difficult, but it can (and must) be done. Indeed, recovery from such condition is the first truly meaningful work we will do in our lives. There are two ways to recover from a post-intoxication hangover: getting intoxicated again or rest & nutrition. In the long-run, only the latter really works.
A few words of caution before we explore this process.
The pursuit of a meaningful life is hard work and perhaps many people might think it is not worth the effort. For many people it may be better to respond to the hangover with another round of intoxication. It’s an approach that works–for a while.
Just like physical intoxication, more of the same always provides temporary relief to the pain. That is, until the liver fails and all of the regrets of abusing one’s body over the years begin to set. No longer able to drink, the alcoholic with the failing liver is forced to live in the worst of all possible worlds–where persistent, chronic pain coincides with the impossibility of relief and the pervasive awareness that it was all self-inflicted.
There is little difference in the metaphorical realm of intoxication and hangover. There comes a point in most people’s lives beyond which they can no longer delude themselves or fill their time with pleasurable distraction, and they live in deep regret of their lost time, missed opportunities, and wasted life. Those who do not reach this point have merely died drunk. Some people reach this point very early in life, even in adolescence, while others are able to maintain the ruse well into middle life and even old age.
Still, your giant follows you wherever you go.
Nevertheless, to gaze upon your giant, wherever you are, is painful and difficult. To wake up every morning and do the work necessary to build from nothing the work of your life, to create your magnum opus, is to suffer alongside the experience of intense joy. Every high is higher, every low lower than anything you have ever encountered before.
You must consciously decide to emigrate from Mediocristan, but citizenship in Meaningland comes at a price. The price is your comfort of average, your soma of stability, your security blanket of false acceptability. You must check them at the border–the customs agents of Meaningland won’t permit you to enter with them in your luggage. Indeed, there is not much you can bring with you on this journey. Only yourself, your thoughts, your will.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
-T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
The border crossing is treacherous, with dangers lurking around every corner. From here to the other side you will encounter ferocious animals, poisonous plants, raging rivers, and towering mountains all trying to stop you, all trying to slow you down. You will have to endure hot and cold, desert and glacier, rain and drought, flood and famine. The scenery is incredible, but your feet will tire, your back will ache. When you think you should be halfway, you will look at the map and see you have just begun.
When you look up to see the border to the other side, you will look down and discover there is one last river to cross, deep and flowing fast, as cold as ice. You will be tempted to quit and turn back. But you must persist.
As you arrive, tired but relieved and full of accomplishment, there will be others to greet you, others who have made the same journey. You will eat and drink together, sharing stories of the voyage, and then when you are rested, it will be time to begin the real journey. It will be even longer than the first, even more uncertain, but by then you will be prepared, you will have practiced, and most importantly, you won’t be going alone.
You may download the full essay directly here.