Alienation From Self, Angst, Anhedonism, Anxiety, Attached Love, Attachment, Buddhism, Delusion, Depression, Emotional Dependency, Emotions, Fear, Fun, Gluttony, Greed, Happiness, Human Nature, Life, Love, Lovers, Marriage, New Love, Quality of Life, Romantic Love, Self, Self-Knowledge, Sex, Wisdom

Pleasure is Like a Fire: It Warms You or it Burns

(About a 6 minute read)

I will be among the last people on earth to become an ascetic.   The idea of rejecting pleasure — all pleasure — for any reason gut-punches me.  It’s alien, it’s unnecessary, it’s outrageous.

Or at least that’s what my instincts tell me.  Whatever the reason, I simply wasn’t born to be an ascetic.  Not my path at all.  Someone else may “get” asceticism, benefit from it, but not me.

So it might seem curious to some of you that I have gone a full two years in my life without even once laughing out loud.  Not once in two years.

Continue reading “Pleasure is Like a Fire: It Warms You or it Burns”

Alienation, Angst, Critiques, Jane Paterson Basil, Life, Outstanding Bloggers, Poetry, Quality of Life

Poetry Critique: “Existential Angst” by Jane

(About a 6 minute read)

Dear Reader,

I have on occasion wondered whether it was possible to compose existential angst poetry without, however, coming across as so much whining.

The occasions have usually been when someone has asked me to read an angst-ridden poem of theirs.  That hasn’t happened recently, but it used to be fairly common back in the days I hung out with a lot of young people in their teens and early twenties.

So far as I can recall, the one thing all those poems shared was that they came across as whining.  Some of the poems were quite powerful: I still recall one that I thought at the time was so moving it could force me to eat three-o’clock-in-the-morning darkness.

Continue reading “Poetry Critique: “Existential Angst” by Jane”

Abuse, Alienation, Angst, Anxiety, Authenticity, Compassion, Courage, Depression, Evolution, Fear, Free Spirit, Health, Human Nature, Kindness, Late Night Thoughts, Mental and Emotional Health, Oppression, Quality of Life, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Sexuality, Spiritual Alienation, Spirituality, Teacher, Values

Can a Person Who is Alienated from Themselves find Happiness?

Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

–Oscar Wilde

In Artic Dreams, Barry Lopez somewhere talks about an Inuit word for a wise person.  The word, if I recall, means “someone who through their behavior creates an atmosphere in which wisdom is made tangible.”  When I read Lopez a few years ago, I thought of Paul Mundschenk.  As I recall, I never once heard him claim to possess, say, compassion, good faith in others, or kindness.  Yet, he embodied those virtues, as well as others: He made them visible.

Mundschenk was a professor of Comparative Religious Studies, and, as you might imagine, I discovered he was inspiring.  But not inspiring in the sense that I wanted to be like him.  Rather, inspiring in the sense he showed me that certain virtues could be honest and authentic. I was a bit too cynical as a young man to see much value in compassion, good faith, kindness, and so forth.  I thought intelligence mattered an order of magnitude more than those things.  Yet, because of Mundschenk, and a small handful of other adults, I could only deny the value of those virtues; not their authenticity.

I can see in hindsight how I naively assumed at the time that we all grow up to be true to ourselves.  Isn’t that normal for a young man or woman to make that assumption, though?  Aren’t most youth slightly shocked each time they discover that yet another adult is, in some way important to them as a youth, a fake?

Perhaps it’s only when we ourselves become an adult that we eventually accept most of us are less than true to ourselves, for by that time, we so often have discovered what we consider are good reasons not to be true to ourselves.

If that’s the case, then I think there might be a sense in which Mundschenk never grew up.  That is, he just gave you the impression of a man who has never accepted the common wisdom that he must put on a front to get on in the world. He had an air of innocence about him, as if it had somehow simply escaped his notice that he ought to conform to the expectations of others, and that any of us who refuses to do so is asking for all sorts of trouble.

Now, to be as precise as a dentist when untangling the inexplicably tangled braces of a couple of kids the morning after prom night, Mundschenk did not seem a defiant man.  He was anything but confrontational.  Rather, his notably open and honest individualism seemed deeply rooted in a remarkable indifference to putting on any fronts or airs.  He simply couldn’t be bothered to conform.

Often, when I remember Mundschenk, I remember the way he shrugged.  I remember some folks for their smiles, others for their voices, but Mundschenk for his shrug.  It seemed to hint of Nature’s indifference, but without the coldness.  Which, I guess, makes me wonder: Is there anything unusual about someone who is both notably indifferent to himself and notably true to himself?

I was put in mind of Paul Mundschenk this morning because of a  post I wrote for this blog three years ago.  The post was intended to be humorous, but I titled it, “An Advantage of Being Cold and Heartless?“.   Consequently, the post gets two or three hits each day from people looking for advice on how to make themselves cold and heartless.

I can imagine all sorts of reasons someone might want to make themselves cold and heartless.  Perhaps someone they are on intimate terms with — a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a partner — is wounding them.  Or perhaps they are among the social outcasts of their school.  But whatever their reasons, they google search strings like, “How do I make myself cold and heartless?”

Nowadays, I think it is a mistake to try to make yourself tough, cold, heartless, or otherwise insensitive.  But I certainly didn’t think it was a mistake 30 years ago, when I was a young man.

Yet, I see now how my values and priorities in those days were not largely derived from myself, but from others. The weight I placed on intelligence, for instance, was from fear that others might take advantage of me if I was in anyway less intelligent than them.  I valued cleverness more than compassion and kindness because I thought cleverness less vulnerable than compassion and kindness.  And I carried such things to absurd extremes: I can even recall thinking — or rather, vaguely feeling — that rocks were in some sense more valuable than flowers because rocks were less vulnerable than flowers.  The truth never once occurred to me: What we fear owns us.

It seems likely that when someone seeks to make themselves insensitive, they are seeking to protect themselves, rather than seeking to be true to themselves.   If that’s the case, then anyone who tries to make themselves less sensitive than they naturally are runs the risk of alienating themselves from themselves.

Can a person who is significantly alienated from themselves be genuinely happy?  I have no doubt they can experience moments of pleasure or joy, but can they be deeply happy?  It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?  Perhaps a little bit like asking whether someone who wants a melon will feel just as happy with a pepper instead.

Anger, Angst, Anhedonism, Anxiety, Attachment, Consciousness, Delusion, Depression, Emotions, Fear, Happiness, Health, Meaning, Mental and Emotional Health, Obsession, Quality of Life, Quotes, Religion, Self, Spirituality, Wisdom

Letting Go

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

Anatole France

Sometime ago I wrote about myself (but I think it could in essence be about many of us):

At thirty-seven, I lost nearly everything I owned, including everything I’d built my self-identity on, and consequently discovered the art of dying. I haven’t felt afraid of death since.

“The art of dying.”  I often think of it today as “letting go.”

I know that at times in our lives, we must let go of who we are in order to make way for who we shall become.  But some people say letting go is something a very wise person practices — not just now and then — but moment to moment.  I believe them, but I myself am not wise enough to know how to do that.  The only times I have come close to letting go moment to moment have been when I was forced to.

That does not surprise me.  In general, the closest I come to being a wise person is when I am dragged kicking and protesting into wisdom. I sometimes think that’s true of many wise people.

I do know that when we cling to ourselves we create all sorts of problems.  It’s a good thing when we are quickly forced by circumstances to give up the old, because the longer we are able to cling to the old, the more problems we create (both inside of us and in the world too), the more we suffer, and the more difficult it becomes for us to get out of the messes we’ve made.

Besides, how do we know when to let go of ourselves — or let go of some aspect of ourselves — except that circumstances tell us when?

All the same, the temptation and tendency to cling to ourselves beyond when it might be appropriate is understandable, isn’t it?  For one thing, I bet an instinct or predisposition to self-preservation is hardwired into our genes.  For another, it can be emotionally painful to loose even a relatively minor and comparatively unimportant part of our self identity, let alone anything very important to us.  I know someone who once broke into frantic tears upon discovering he’d misplaced his favorite belt.  Letting go can be very difficult.  Even minor changes in who we think we are can at times upset us.

The threat of a huge change to our self identity can sometimes provoke us to cling to ourselves with a ferocity usually seen only in the largest tigers and lions.   Growing up, I spent four or five years painfully infatuated with a certain girl.  She was the emotional center of my life.  Indeed, I suffered most days and every night for years.   It wasn’t until much later in life that I had the experience to see how I had nursed and cultivated that infatuation — despite the almost crippling emotional pain it caused me — because I was so frightened to let go of my image of myself as her lover.

During those years of merciless clinging, I was usually heavy, depressed, spiritless, and controlling.  You could have been forgiven if you had mistaken me for a religious fanatic.  I had difficulty seeing more than one aspect of a thing, more than one point of view.  I seldom — with a few exceptions — struck out on a new path, did anything different.  Nursing and cultivating that infatuation took most of what I had.

Ever since those years, when I think of what extremes a person might go to to preserve their self image, I am very likely to think of what I once put into preserving mine.

Ironically, those were the years in which Nietzsche was my hero — Nietzsche, the philosopher for light spirits:

“The Cosmic Dancer, declares Nietzsche, does not rest heavily in a single spot, but gaily, lightly, turns and leaps from one position to another. It is possible to speak from only one point [of view] at a time, but that does not invalidate the insights of the rest.” — Joseph Campbell

While it’s true Nietzsche never wrote precisely what Campbell attributes to him, Campbell’s “paraphrase” of Nietzsche’s views ranks as a sharp and accurate enough insight into Neitzsche’s thought.

As I learned the only way I’ve ever learned a spiritual truth — the hard way — there are no light spirits, no Cosmic Dancers, among those who take themselves so grimly and cling to themselves so tenaciously that they cannot let go, they cannot practice the art of dying.

It seems to me Bob Dylan puts a pretty, but significant, twist on the notion of letting go when he sings, “He’s not busy being born is busy dying”.  To me, Dylan’s lyric emphasizes the psychological or spiritual rebirth that so often follows upon our letting go of ourselves.

The dead cling to themselves beyond their expiration dates, so to speak, but those who are alive let go.

Angst, Love, Lust, Poetry, Relationships


The following is an original poem by my friend T.M. Salisbury that I thought you might enjoy. – Paul

It used to be nightmares that kept me awake and set my pen to flying. Now you come to shatter my sleep, with your phantom hands and your sweet, hoarse crying.

I gaze on you in waking times, lose myself in the throb of your line, try to stave off dreams of your flesh on mine.

Struggling, when you come to greet, ‘gainst the question with its lingering heat – would the flickering hint of your teasing scent be delicious as your flavor?

Strive to make hungry eyes behave as across your perfect lines they stray – well past what I appreciate, I’ve crossed the line to torture.

For when I lay me down to sleep, in bed so cold I want to weep, your phantom kills the dark I seek, luminous with her fortune.

Erotic lips and artful hands, feasting on her starving skin – your heat your weight oh driving in –

I feel these shadows – searing brands – some would call them darkest sin, so come… be my salvation.

© T.M. Salisbury 2000-2008

Angst, Authenticity, Enlightenment, Late Night Thoughts, Love, Mysticism, Spirituality

Love and Enlightenment

Thirty years ago, I took a course called “Images of Man” in which we studied and discussed some seven different models of human nature. That was a very exciting time of life when I was discovering all sorts of grand ideas.

I was discovering ideas that I had until then only heard rumors about — such as what time was to a physicist, what the subconscious was to a psychologist, or what culture was to an anthropologist. It had not occurred to me before taking the “Images of Man” course that our notions of human nature were human inventions. Indeed, when I look back on my growing up, I am astounded at how many very obvious things I had to learn.

Naturally, there was a woman involved.

No one at 19 should be forced to learn about time, the subconscious, culture, or any of a hundred other grand ideas without being in love. That would just be cruel. Worse, it could lead one to become a neoconservative.

Until I fell in love with a woman in my “Images of Man” class, I was very confused about love — I really didn’t know the difference between simply loving and possessively yearning. So, to me, love was heartbreak, a miserable state, something to be avoided, and when impossible to avoid, to be cursed. Then, of course, I met Alison and discovered the extraordinary affirmation of life that naturally comes from loving without expectation of any reward.

One of the models of human nature we studied that term introduced me to the concept of enlightenment. Have you ever considered how close enlightenment is to love? I don’t think I really grasped much of the concept of enlightenment from that one class, but I would have grasped far less of it had I not been in love.

When compared to the torturous confusion of mere yearning, love is simple, clear, non-possessive, and straight-forward. When compared to the torturous confusion of non-enlightenment, enlightenment is simple, clear, non-possessive, and straight-forward. Perhaps the two are even inextricably entwined.

It even seems to me now, thirty years later, that I learned more about certain aspects of human nature from loving Alison than I did from studying the various models of human nature presented in the class.

Angst, Quotes, Spirituality

Is There Meaning To Suffering?

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

– Elizabeth Kubler Ross

At times, the last thing anyone of us wants to believe is that our suffering is meaningless. Everyone suffers. That seems to be an universal truth. And nearly everyone finds some meaning, some purpose in their sufferings.

Ross is not alone in suggesting that our sufferings are redeemed by their potential to turn us into more beautiful people. Many of us believe that. Or, as Nietzsche famously said, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” The impulse to find meaning in suffering is a strong one.

How many of us actually entertain the thought there is no meaning to suffering? Perhaps very few of us do. I know when I suffer, my first instinct is to look for meaning. I want my suffering to stand for something greater than itself. It is like swimming against a current to entertain the thought that it might be meaningless.

Angst, Biology, Emotions, Love, Marriage, Neuroscience, Psychology, Sexuality

Love or Addiction?

When we have sex, our bodies release certain neurochemicals that cause us to bond with the person we have sex with.

For instance, our bodies release oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neurochemical that does a number of things in humans, but it should be noted here that it is addictive. That is, oxytocin is as much of an addictive substance as is alcohol or nicotine.

Most people readily describe the emotional effects of oxytocin as having “a warm and fuzzy feeling towards someone”. If you gave someone a shot of pure oxytocin, they would experience a rush of warm and fuzzy feelings, among other things.

So what does all this mean? It means that when you have sex with a person, your body releases an addictive chemical that you come to associate with that person. If you cease having sex with that person, you will be able to go a few days with no problem. Then the withdrawl symptoms will set in and you will yearn for him or her (you are really yearning for more oxytocin, but your mind doesn’t know that).

This pattern is why so many couples break up, are happy with their break up for a few days, and then plummet into yearnings for each other. Not realizing that they are chemically addicted to each other, they think their yearnings mean they are in love with each other. So, they get back together again. Only to face the same problems that caused them to break up in the first place.

The moral of the story, if there is one, is this: Be careful who you sleep with. If you sleep with them often enough, whether inside marriage or outside of marriage, you will become addicted to them. That is especially true for women: Estrogen multiplies the bonding effect of oxytocin.

I am not making an argument here for restricting sex to marriage, but rather am merely saying that sex has consequences we don’t always think about, but should. Sex, after all, is something that evolved in us not just for procreation, but (at least in humans) also for bonding us to each other.

Angst, Poetry

Bent, Not Broken

Some time ago, Brandon E. experienced a low point in his life and wrote an angst poem about it that I find quite interesting for its spirit of defiance. The poem is called “Bent, Not Broken”:

not succumbing
but not overcoming
barely getting by

smiles in the hallway
jokes on the fairway
at home a broken sigh

belief in life better
with no clue how to get there
slowly running dry

a bent neck, not broken
many dreams, unspoken
how did he become I?

Thank you, Brandon, for allowing me to post the poem!