The Way of All Things

Wherein I give myself a stern talking to . . . 

“I’m lost. Life makes no sense. It’s unfair.”

Because, deep down, you have beliefs.  You believe it should be different. The problem is not the world or your life. Those things are nature—formless, amoral, apolitical, adogmatic, unorthodox, unpredictable, beyond systems and formulas, always changing.  The problem is you.

Confront life as it is, not as you wish or assume it to be. Nature can seem like anything.  It wears billions of masks, but it has no root form, no core shape. This is hard to accept because it means you have to let go of yourself, the person you think you are, your hopes and dreams, your loves and hates, your stupid temporary identity (which will only last for around 80 years if you’re lucky and eat your spinach).  Otherwise, cling to “only if” and “should” and “must” and suffer accordingly.

People will enjoy making you feel worse: “Stop complaining. The world doesn’t owe you anything” (which is hypocritical because saying that is, in itself, a complaint). But they’re right. The world can’t owe you anything because it doesn’t run on debits and credits. Only human simulations of the world (economics, education, law, marriage, honor, revenge, career, politics, Christianity) work like that.  Only humans feel entitled, chosen, predestined, owed, special, singled out. It’s easy to believe that life is like a bank account, when it’s more like senior prom: frustration, tacky formalwear, mean girls, heartbreak, and cheap booze in the parking lot.

Remember, the world is formless. It’s obvious in weather or animal life. Fly a kite today and sing in the wind.  Tomorrow, run for the basement when the tornado comes to tear off your roof.  Make friends with a tiger today, but know that he might eat you tomorrow. It’s not personal; Simba was just hungry. It can’t be personal. The tornado doesn’t hate you.  It’s not about what you want or don’t want or what you’ve done or what you deserve.

You are not powerless. You can change some things—for a time. Sometimes, the house you build withstands the storm. Sometimes, your hopes are confirmed. Sometimes, your hard training pays off. But your accomplishments are still subject to change. The house will eventually crumble. Fate will eventually favor someone else. No matter how hard you practice, a contender will eventually become the champion you once were. 

It’s inevitable. Axiomatic. It’s the way things are. And one may cry, “Haven’t I sacrificed enough—everything—for this?”  But the world just shrugs: “And didn’t you build a really nice house? Didn’t you get all the books you asked for? Weren’t you eventually able to run that marathon?”  Maybe you’re clever.  Maybe you’re a gifted athlete or an inspired artist.  But you are still mortal, still finite, still as subject to change as the house itself. You, too, will collapse into different forms.

If you don’t like this, who’d blame you?  You’d prefer to be changeless and perfect, to have perfect justice, to be satisfied one-hundred percent of the time.  But the only way forward is to accept the chaos (which is to say, the formless changeability) of life. Let go of quantification, of definitive conclusions and metrics, of belief and “should,” and see the world qualitatively, like a child.  Then the paths of life will open effortlessly for you and the gods will call you wise.

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