Are You Having Fun Yet?
“Life is suffering” has become a common trope, especially with the subterranean swing toward classic “conservative” values in the under 30 crowd. It’s interesting to see this trend arise in response to the more superficial gestalt we often find on Instagram, where life is presented as extra shiny and extra amazing. But, like the song goes, Everybody Knows that’s just a ruse.
Whether or not life is actually complete suffering all the time, or if we just create our own reality and attract every single aspect of our experience — I contend the jury will be out on that debate for a long time coming. In this case, I’m less interested in the metaphysics, and much more in the day-to-day subtleties that are to be found between these two poles.
My life experience inevitably contains head-on encounters with challenges, difficulties, and discomfort. It seems it’s just an inescapable fact of being in a body on this planet.
For the uninitiated, this fact provokes extreme despair. Any number of ingenious methods are employed, often serially, to create a temporary bubble of denial. If you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ll have noticed by now that the juvenile culture in which we live is continuously and consistently throwing up new forms of distracting, amnesiac, numbing detours around this fact.
The scary thing is, it’s happening now more than ever. It seems that the more intense the need for real adults to come to face our current challenges (personal and global) with an unconditional presence, the faster and more frantic the recycling and repackaging of these distractions.
I think this is being powered first by an outward denial, but more deeply, by a secret feeling harboured by us all that our suffering is unjust, and therefore something must be done to alleviate it. We feel that our agency must be exercised. Publicly, we distract. Privately, we complain. We show ourselves and those around us that injustice is being acted upon us. We feel special in our pain.
Your suffering isn’t special, but more important, it’s actually not even that interesting. Suffering is about as common as dirt. Again, the wisdom of no escape is hard earned. But it is a special medicine.
We all act as if our suffering is extremely interesting, not only by the way we continue thinking about and justifying why it’s wrong, but in the ways we escape our troubles. We’re kind of doing two opposing things at once there — it’s wrong, let me tell you about it, but wait, because Game of Thrones.
There has to be a better way.
Inevitably, it seems, the stoics were right — facing things head on and with an inner silence seems to “work.” It is Sisyphean, but like Camus said, we have to assume he was smiling. Why? Why was he smiling? I don’t think it was because he felt special. I think actually he was stoked because he found, in his suffering, his non-specialness was a form of freedom.
You can feel that for yourself in a less gloomy way by perturbing your mind with a field of stars. Walk out on a clear night, look up — now how special do you feel? It makes me look like a grain of dust on an alluvial plain — picayune, nothing. But in the nothing, a spaciousness, a freedom. A different kind of bubble around my pain. One that doesn’t break as easy.
Freedom has its true form, and then its many imitations. The most common is this old and tired idea that the human will can conquer all, can overcome anything, in the sense of producing a result. The human will is extraordinary (see: Pyramids), but it has yet to overcome this very foundational tenet of 3D reality — that being the curious condition of ever-reappearing challenges in which we find ourselves inextricably bound. No matter how many Gothic Cathedrals we build, there will be another catechism.
Freedom will never be found AFTER anything. Freedom is not a future-tense state. There will not be a flood of freedom which descends upon us after we have worked hard enough, complained enough, justified enough. Nobody is coming to save us; there will be no miracle.
Freedom is now — in the abandonment of specialness, and the rejection of justification of our negativity. This is why the Nihilists are a victim of their own ideology. We make meaning, it’s the way we get by — indeed, the only way. Abdicate your responsibility to make meaning of your suffering, and yes, life will seem meaningless. It would be comical, if it weren’t tragic. Unless that’s the same thing?
On construction job sites, there’s often a lot of hidden wisdom. You wouldn’t think it from doing a quick driveby — most of those dudes look pretty gruff. But you’d be surprised at the pearls hard labour shines up in the soul of a man.
One of my favourite expressions I hear is this: “Are you having fun yet?” I tend to get it from the older guys who I work with, on the hottest day, with the weirdest, micromanaging client, with the most dangerous and thankless tasks ahead. “Are you having fun yet?”
At first, I was pissed off at this question. I thought, “Fuck you, of course I’m not having fun.” My suffering despaired me, alas, I was not worthy of it yet. I had to hear that joke a few more times, work a few more brutal days. Many more in fact.
The next time you suffer, think about this: are you thinking about getting out of it, thinking about being free of it? Then you never will. It’s a shapeshifter; it will become whatever you resist, over and over. Most people go their whole lives evading one thing, only to fall into another “thing.” This is reality — always perturbing the ego, tricking it into chasing its own tail.
What if freedom is found in the moment of choice around how you respond to what comes?
People think “responsibility” is a stern idea, but really it’s just Response — Ability. Your ability to respond, rather than react out of patterned habit. Real freedom is not outside; it’s in you. The suffering is just a catalyst to this realization. It patiently waits for you, hoping you’ll finally welcome it into your life so you can get on with the “real work,” which hilariously has nothing to do with you and your “freedom” at all. Over and over, it catalyzes you, hoping, praying, that you’ll one day figure it out and see it for the friend it is. But, you keep running. Until you don’t.
That’s the cosmic joke.
Those construction guys get it.
Are you having fun yet?
Originally published at https://www.thisflameicarry.com on June 11, 2019.