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Monday
Dec242012

Out In The Open & Into The World

Shaved my beard and it came off like a mask. Sick of hiding and being hid. The dead German philosopher said our greatest task is that of clearing a place to stand in the open. It takes time in the mirror to shave your whole face in the morning. I pause with the razor to gaze at the problem.

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I’ve not been this committed to recovery from alcoholism since my early 20s. The problem of alcoholism is frequently misconstrued as merely an extreme abuse of alcohol. But the overwhelming thirst for alcohol is, in actuality, just a symptom, a wily craving for relief from the crux of the problem: a deeply rooted dissatisfaction with life resulting from a fundamental flaw in the relationship between one’s self and the world.

I’ve been conceiving it like this. There’s the world and what happens. And then there’s the ego (which here means the self or a complex system of expectation and desire). These things (ego and world) for all of us are always at odds in one way or another. Big deal, right? Just go with the flow. But where the alcoholic seems to distinguish himself from others is that he is utterly locked inside the ego and its perspective. The self as a jail or a maze with no exits. He can only see the world (and the people and things that inhabit it) through the perspective of his own desire, which of course the world often (always?) contradicts, creating an immense divide that results in an intense experience of loneliness. (The divide doesn’t really exist but only enlightened people understand this is in a lived way and they just taunt us with enigmas.)

If you want to forget the previous paragraph and insert Alcoholics are extremely selfish motherfuckers, that would be fine.

So the provisional (day to day) cure of alcoholism (extreme, extreme selfishness) is a miraculous shift in the alcoholic’s perspective from its root in ego to that of the world. Rather than dwelling in a jail that only sees how the world doesn’t meet the ego’s expectations, the new perspective is from that of the world and what IT needs, forgetting the ego altogether (with the hope of one day realizing its non-existence; three pounds of flax, etc.).

This is a monumental shift in perspective, a Copernican revolution in terms of relationship and vision, and, to put it mildly, it’s really really hard. So the other cure, in terms of temporarily mending the alcoholic’s sense of extreme divide between the ego and the world (not in terms of becoming genuinely selfless) is to drink 15 beers. OMG I love to get drunk! I love it so much it can only be described with surreal metaphors. Being drunk is the umbrella in a candy store. Being drunk is the mouse on the throne in the kingdom of dreams. And so on. The craziest thing is the experience of intoxication for the alcoholic is probably as simple as the way you (and here I mean you) feel when you do something kind.

How may I help you?

Who knew? Who, after reading libraries of books and undergoing hour after hour of therapeutic self investigation, could’ve possibly guessed that the key out of the jail of ego was a mere turning toward the world? When you give someone a ride, pick up some litter, smile at cashiers, waste less water, or buy someone a cup of coffee and listen to their problems, you (you, and all your rigid designs) begin to fade, diminish, vanish. The divide—it’s mended! And there’s no one in the mirror.

To mend that divide is the end of loneliness and the beginning of a looking out, seeing, and a genuine being in and with the world.

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I’ve had a long-standing playful argument with Gwen about travel. While she has insisted that seeing the world is a vital necessity, I’ve countered (boasted) that all I need is a basement filled with books. Next summer, we’re going to Spain.

For Christmas she sent me a big rectangular package that I suspected was an art print. Guessing it was a giant reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica, what I found instead was a map of the world.