ChainsCulture and Politics

Five (short) lessons I took from 2020

The obligatory reflection on a year that would mostly likely be remembered as an “inflection point in world history” or just a “bump in the road”, depending on who will write history, unfolds below – in five [personal] lessons.

Don’t underestimate your capacity to adapt

This isn’t about working from home or getting good at using Twitter, Zoom and Teams as substitutes for handshakes and face-to-face meetings. This is about the individual’s capacity to undergo a psychological and emotional metamorphosis.

Both the spread of the virus and the measures taken to deal with it have had a profound impact on how I see myself, the world around me and the relationship between the two. These developments also shaped my view of who I am now and who I want to become. It altered the notion of “the future”, revealed insecurities and character traits which, although under different circumstances might have proved beneficial, turned out to be detrimental to survival.

Changes were required. A change of thoughts. A change of emotions. A change of perspective. These changes required conscious effort to focus on this, not that, to believe this, not that, to do this, not that. The result of the effort was to adapt to the situation. We are more resilient than we believe.

Love yourself, above all

Everything we crave comes from trying to fill in a spiritual void. We’re trying to heal a disease with the wrong medicine. This is evident not only when we look at how we spend money (which is probably the most obvious symptom of something nothing being ok: buying stuff we don’t need, a.k.a. “shit”), but also when we pay attention to the personal relationships we develop.

The attempt here is to cover up a wound in our soul. This can be due to frustrations, disappointments, feelings of inadequacy, psychological complexes and so on. Perhaps the biggest factor for this spiritual decay is the lack of [true] love of who we are. Total acceptance, with empathy and gentleness of the body and mind that have carried us so far.

When you look in the mirror, do you sincerely believe that you (not those around you) would miss the pair of eyes that you see?

Sleeping is an exercise in preparation of death. When we close our eyes, we are alone with ourselves. That world, repetitive and short-lived, surrounded by darkness and silence, that world just before we dream, never lies. In it, me, you, all of us, are naked – not before a god, not before others, but before ourselves.

Do you smile at what you see, content and in love with that person? Or do you loath the sight and hope to forget it the next morning, should it come?

There are worse things than death

I realised that we spend so much of our lives trying to construct some sort of certainty, to make sense of things, to plan and anticipate, to hedge and calculate the incalculable, just to be paranoically afraid of the only inevitability: death.

After many battles with myself, I concluded that for me, free choice, including the choice of taking a risk that can lead to my death, is more valuable than a life which is engineered by “those who know better”.

I realised and accepted that there are worse things than death. Here are some: not being able to be true to your nature, decades of physical and mental torture, living under totalitarian regimes, unit 731, enslavement, brainwashing, overwhelming guilt, spiritual homelessness and the list can go on.

Death is natural. Death is beautiful. Death is inevitable.

John Muir said this about death:

“On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death. … Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights.”

Edward Abbey was right

“Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners” wrote Edward Abbey.

This is not a functional socio-economic system, I am being told. People would do whatever they want, even eating each other alive.

The default assumptions underlying this argument are twofold: one is that we are some sort of beasts uncapable of controlling ourselves in any measure that is deemed practical, and the second one is that because we are beasts, we need “others” that know better to rule over us, to establish laws and enforce them, to educate us, to guide us towards whatever future.

The first assumption rests on the belief that human nature is by default evil, or at least feral enough to tend towards cruelty, greed, anger and lust. If this was the case, we would not have any art. To create art, one must disregard rules, break cultural norms, even disobey laws, and yet, the beauty that radiates from artistic creation reveals the trace of something that is beyond feral and certainly above evil.

A similar thing can be said about the scientific inquiry: to seek to know more, truthfully, about us and the world around, ought to be taken as another sign that we are more than bloodthirsty beats incapable of regulating our minds and bodies.

The second assumption devalues the individual completely. It rests on the belief that the individual can never achieve a level of spiritual and material enlightenment necessary for self-governance. As a result, others, still individuals, but better ones, are needed to rule over one.

This is a pessimistic view which betrays even the darkest forms of nihilism as it sees the very source of any view, the individual, as impotent of having the view in the first place.

More so, this assumption ignores that laws exist even in the absence of legal institutions. Laws are embedded in the interactions between people and these interactions, over time, establish what and how things are done. To stand for anarchy is to stand for the ultimate form of democracy: the democracy of each one of us.

This drug works, everyone should try it

Music is one of the most powerful drugs. It alters our mood. It deals with current emotions and brings to life new ones. It speaks to us about things others cannot understand, even if they might have experienced them too. It allows us to feel freely, unconstrained by norms and rules and away from the eyes of culture and society.

Music is the best medicine. Reality has no chance against it. Everyone should try it. Overdose on music. Spend hours listening to songs, dreaming and living far away from what is real and practical, in a place with not time and space, of calm colours and shapes, where there is nothing but emotion: pain, love, melancholy, acceptance.

Andrea Bocelli – Vivo per lei, a song dedicated to music.

I hope 2021 will be a better year for all of us.

PS: The painting is mine.

PSS: Hugs!

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