Saturday, November 4, 2023

The Path to Paganism: Part 4: Pointless Diversions

Photo by Torsten Dederichs on Unsplash.

A slight digression today from the topic at hand. At this point, I'm 10,000 words into my writing experiment, and I have to confess that I've been tempted more than once to just delete the whole thing and find something else to do. I feel like I'm wasting my time and everyone else's. I actually feel incredibly foolish doing any of this. I just happened to come across a topic that piqued my interest leading into November, and I figured I'd take the opportunity to blog about it and participate in my own way in NaNoWriMo with my wife, who enjoys taking part in this exercise every year. She writes interesting works of fiction during the month. Me? Well, I don't write fiction. When I write, I just babble about stuff that serves no practical purpose and ultimately has no meaning to anyone else but me.

What makes it even worse is that when I take the time to look back at 11 years of blogging and most of the comments I make on social media, it occurs to me that most of it just boils down to "please listen to me." I imagine it's the same for most people. But it's kind of a sad way to live.

I think part of the frustration for me stems from the fact that I look at the world differently from most people, so I don't even have the comfort of belonging to a tribe of people who share my worldview. At least other people have echo chambers, for whatever that's worth. No one reads the stuff I write. I shout into the wind. And it's profoundly lonely to live like this. I think most people who tell you they're tough and can go it alone are really trying to convince themselves more than they are anyone else. We aren't meant to be islands. We're creatures who yearn to belong to something.

The problem for some of us is that we never know where to moor our boats. More than once I've been told that I'm like a ship being tossed around by the waves. I'm sure it's annoying to have to be around somebody like that. I wouldn't want to be around somebody like that. My problem is that my personality makes me want to tear things apart and see how they work. I can never simply be content with finding something the way it is and leaving it unexplored and unanalyzed. I find something, I lean into the ideas that I find interesting and sensible, and I try to dissect the ideas that I find lacking. Out of that process, I build theoretical systems in my head that mean nothing to anybody but me. I create my ideal way of doing and looking at things, but that ultimately just leads to frustration because in the real world, no one else does things or looks at things the way I do, and I end up perplexed at why the world is the way it is. I usually come to the conclusion that most people are dumb and incurious, when maybe I'm really the one with the problem. There's a reason I was a lone wolf as a little kid, and then in high school, and then in college. It's the same reason I feel almost completely isolated as an adult. I don't fit in anywhere, and I don't know how to. And I think I'd feel like a phony if I tried, like somebody would find me out and realize I was just faking it to try to be part of the group.

My problem, my core defect, is that I enjoy going down intellectual and philosophical rabbit holes. My interest in the pagan path is probably just another one of those rabbit holes, and I'll probably blow my 50,000 words talking about it this month and then abandon it and move on, the way I do with most things. Meanwhile, everyone around me has to deal with someone who acts unsettled until I get the whole stupid thing out of my system. It probably wears people down to have to deal with this stuff all the time. I wish I could simply settle down, be content, and shut the hell up about crap like this. 

I think the ever-declining state of my health is making it worse. It makes me more and more agitated. To further the boat analogy, I feel like I'm drowning and there's nothing I can do to stop it. I feel completely out of control of everything, even my own body, and I can't decide if it's more scary or more depressing to be this way. I've tried to be stoic about it, but it's really not working anymore. All I know is that it sucks. When even my body fails me, it would just be nice to have some sense of stability, something to hold on to, a lifeline. And the problem is I can't even find that.

I mean, I don't expect what I'm currently studying and analyzing to be some kind of magic pill to cure all my ills. Magic pills don't exist. If they did, I would have found one by now. I'm just curious about this particular topic, and there are reasons it interests me -- intellectually, philosophically, and spiritually. I like playing with the ideas it presents. If I'm lucky, I'll find something that I can feel I'm a part of, something that resonates with me. That's all. I just want to see where it goes. And blogging about it is my way of talking things out in my head. For me it's a helpful and interesting exercise. For the people around me, they're just waiting for me to get over it and move on. I don't blame them. I'm just going to do my best to keep it all to myself and not burden anyone else with it. My path has always been my own and no one else's, so no one else should have to suffer because of my perpetually obscure interests and my just as perpetually unsettled mind.

Sometimes -- no, actually, quite often -- I wish that I could be like other people who can turn off their critical minds and fully be a part of something. Some group, some organization, some belief system. Something I could throw myself into and not feel awkward and fake while I'm doing it. Even if I do try to become a part of something, I usually feel like I'm intruding on something that's not meant for me. I hate being like this, but I don't see what the alternative is. I can't just shut off my brain and embrace something I'm not fully comfortable with. And I don't know how other people do it.

Out of all the world's scriptures and sacred texts that I've studied over the years, one passage that's always stuck out to me is Chapter 20 of the Tao Te Ching. This ancient Chinese book shows us how to pursue a simple life by emulating the effortless flow of nature, to live simply and let things be however they're going to be. Doing so means being true to yourself, but it also means you probably have a lot of loneliness in store, because you're not going to be mindlessly doing what everyone else around you is doing. A popular translation of the Tao Te Ching, from Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, gives us this reading of Chapter 20: 
Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles. 

Is there a difference between yes and no?
Is there a difference between good and evil?
Must I fear what others fear?
What nonsense! 

Other people are contented, enjoying the sacrificial feast of the ox.
In spring some go to the park, and climb the terrace.
But I alone am drifting, not knowing where I am.
Like a newborn babe before it learns to smile,
I am alone, without a place to go.

Others have more than they need, but I alone have nothing.
I am a fool.
Oh, yes! I am confused.

Other men are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Other men are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.

Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea,
Without direction, like the restless wind.

Everyone else is busy,
But I alone am aimless and depressed.
I am different.
I am nourished by the great mother.
I read most of that chapter, and I nod along and say, "Yeah, that's me." I'm the perpetual outsider looking in. The crucial difference between me and Lao-Tzu, the legendary author of the Tao Te Ching, is that he's content to be like this, because he's "given up learning" and is "nourished by the great mother." I like to think I'm in harmony with the Great Mother Tao, having spent years on my spiritual walk trying to attune myself to the Sacred Feminine. But am I really? I try, but I'm not so sure. Nor can I make myself "give up learning." I like learning stuff. Lao-Tzu says the constant pursuit of knowledge only makes you miserable, because you can never know everything anyway, so be content with what you have and get on with things. But no. I'm like the professor who comes to the sage's home wanting to fill my head with more and more intellectual knowledge, and the sage responds by filling my teacup until it overflows on to the table and down to the floor. When I, the professor, protest at the mess being made, the sage rebuffs me: "This teacup is like your overfilled mind. I can't teach you anything until you empty it."

Maybe I'm just a hopeless case. 

I'm sometimes asked why I want to explore things that have no concrete answers. And the only answer I can come up with is that it's fun. It's intellectually stimulating to ponder the possibilities. Why can't I be content with "I don't know" as an answer? Well, I guess I can, but I also like to think about what the answer would be if I didn't have to stop at "I don't know." Maybe the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything really is just 42, but is it so bad to want to press further into the possibilities? I guess it depends on who has to deal with the person's time-wasting ponderings.

Anyway, I'm too stubborn to stop writing my 50,000 words at this point, so I'll probably keep pushing on. I fully acknowledge that this is probably another one of my idiotic diversions that will go nowhere. I'll look back on this series of posts six months or a year down the road and laugh to myself about how pointless and time-wasting this all was, that it was just another dead-end, and that I should have been making more productive use of my time and energy. Yes, I enjoy playing around with thought experiments to see where they lead. Philosophers do this all the time. But of course, I'm not a philosopher. I'm just some random fat dude who thinks he's smarter than he really is and can never just be content with what is. 

And so I'll just press forward and keep doing what I always do.

[WC: 1,894 / TWC: 12,097]

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