Going Nowhere

How often do we come up against that thought? However much we strive, in the ordinary way of life, we keep realising that we don’t know where our life is going. We have vague ideas about ‘success’ or ‘stability’ but in such moments, we see them as merely treading water: going nowhere, but at least not going down the plug-hole. Is there another option? Is there something about life – or ourselves – that we’re missing? Is this just ‘existential angst’, or is there something important behind these thoughts?

Hah! It would probably be no surprise if I were to say, “Of course there is something more: some hidden meaning behind life.” Maybe you’d expect me to attribute it all to “God’s Will” – as if that were any kind of answer. It’s about as useful as “Shit happens and then you die.” And of course, a lot of people do come to the question of “Where is my life going?” and have only those two answers before them. Well, I am not going to give you an answer – or rather, I am but you’re still going to have to make some decisions for yourself.

“Why am I here?” Short answer: “Because you can be conscious.” Longer answer: “Because beings like us – when we complete ourselves – are the perceptive organs of the universe: the means by which it can know itself.” Longer answer still, though more in concept than word count: “Because we are not ‘alone’; rather, all life is a web of experience and we can play a part in that web, if only we are ‘awake’ to it.” The web is the consciousness of the universe, and to the extent that we ‘sleep-walk’ through life, the part we play is more like that of trees or sheep than it is what ‘human’ beings could be. Not that I have anything against sheep or trees: they are fulfilling what they can be. And a person who never wakes up is doing so, too. But when you do wake up; when you do ask that question, “Where am I going?” you have the chance to be more. Or at least, different.

So where am I going? Do I think I have already ‘arrived’? Have I – metaphorically – put on my slippers at my chosen destination and snuggled up on the sofa with a mug of cocoa? And was that, perhaps, a bit premature? Do I even understand what ‘house’ I am in? Or have I merely glanced at the travel brochures of exotic places, and snuggled up on my own, comfortable sofa, without ever leaving home? Am I filled with dreams of exotic places, without having ‘travelled’ anywhere, at all?

That question – “Where am I going?” – is perhaps the most significant question that any being can ask. And if we just park it under the label of ‘when I am older’, we run the risk of forgetting it altogether. And then, when we do get ‘older’, we may well have run out of time – or out of energy – to consider it. We will have a lifetime of habits of ‘going nowhere’ (but being really busy). That’s not to say it’s ever too late to ask that question, but it’s easier to address without those habits.

So where are you going? Do you want to know what options you have? Or is that a question for ‘tomorrow’? The philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff said, “The man who has the disease of ‘tomorrow’ is the most unfortunate man in the world.” He also said, or had written in his study house, “He who has freed himself of the disease of ‘tomorrow’ has a chance to attain what he came here for.” So if you have ever asked yourself the question, “Where am I going?” the time to start answering it is “whenever you remember.”

The problem with questions like this one is that the answer – if we truly get close to it – changes us. Even the seeking changes us. And perhaps we know that, instinctively, and fear it. All I can say to that is, “The part that fears the unknown is the part that holds up a flickering candle in the darkness, when all around is really bright daylight, and only ‘habit’ tells this part that it is surrounded by darkness.” Of course, when that part hears my statement, it isn’t going to believe me. But I know that; I know it from personal experience.

I remember that my own journey of exploration began when I essayed the test of ‘being’ proposed by P.D. Ouspensky, in his book “The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution.” And maybe he got it from Gurdjieff and didn’t credit the source; I didn’t have the chance to ask him. It has all the marks of Gurdjieff’s philosophy on it: to demonstrate to yourself that you do not have ‘continuity of being’. Oh, I can hear the sophists arguing that being continues, whether we are conscious of it or not. And I agree. But then it is not ‘our’ being, but that of an automaton in the shape of a human: programmed by the world.

So maybe, before answering the question, “Where am I going?” it would be prudent to ask (and maybe answer) the question, “What is it that calls itself ‘I’?” Even formulating this question, we can feel a certain ‘discomfort’. Even without thinking deeply, we are already aware that what we call ‘I’ disappears from time to time. We are aware, too, that ‘I’ isn’t always the same thing. And that’s before we start looking at it closely. There is indeed much to fear: or much that has the potential to be feared, which (luckily) isn’t quite the same thing.

There is much we will dislike, too, when we discover it; such as our propensity for posturing and acting as if we ‘know’, when we merely guess. It will be hard to realise that a lot of what we spent years striving for has no objective value, and precious little subjective value, either. We will discover that we have been building ‘images’ of ourselves, and of those with whom we interact, and we have been spending a huge amount of time and energy on trying to make others perceive us as we would wish to be perceived. And all of that was just glorious nonsense: going nowhere, in grand style. Except it wasn’t even ‘grand’, but rather sordid.

There will be those who nod and think, “Ah, but I am different; I know that it is all a dance of masks, and I delight in misleading people who want me to conform to their little worlds; who want to give me a bit part in their little play, which after all has them as the starring actor.” So who’s the starring actor in your own life? The jaded cynic is only ‘drawn’ that way because it suits their narrative. [I do love that line from Jessica Rabbit, in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”] If we don’t discover our narratives, we can’t say we know ourselves, and we can’t say we are anything but slaves to the world.

So not only do we have to answer “Where am I going?” and “Who or what is it that is ‘going’, anyway?” but also “Whose narrative is it that I am living?” Is it truly your own narrative, or is it one that you have adopted, piecemeal, from what you perceived that others expected? Not necessarily expected of you, but of human existence in general. Is it possible that everything you have adopted and accepted as a ‘life goal’ is merely someone else’s invention?

So once again, I ask, “Do you know where you are going? Do you know who it is that is ‘going’? Do you even know who defined the narrative you are following: the goals that you have adopted?”

If, on review, you decide that you don’t actually ‘know’ the answers to any of those questions, then “Bravo!” You have a chance to be human. You had that chance before, but now – crucially – you know it. All you have to do now is to attempt, earnestly, to answer those questions. And remember that you want to.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Author: sbwheeler

Retired IT consultant.

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