Ayn Randian Dreams (Nightmares?) — A Philosophical Mosaic

I saw a clip–
A grey, hazy time capsule,
Chronicling our past
Yet so present…
Still a specter
Which dominates our minds

Ayn Rand on Johnny Carson???
She expounds,
In a gratingly brittle voice:
The virtue of greed
The reason in selfishness
Only a system
In which
Every man pursues
His own “Reason”
Is one
In which
Humanity can be
Actualized
Capitalism is this system?
Surely a jest!
Each man is not free
Nor guided by his reason
In our system
Of markets
Of money
Of subjugation
–All for profit…

cq5dam.web.1280.1280

She says at the outset:

Man’s proper ethics, or morality, is a morality of rational self-interest. Which means that every man has a right to exist for his own sake, and he must not sacrifice himself to others or sacrifice others to himself (brief pause) that the achievement of his own rational happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life. As a consequence of that, the only system, the only political system, that expresses this morality is the system of laissez-faire capitalism, by which I mean full, unregulated, uncontrolled capitalism, a system based on the recognition of rights, including property rights…

Yet capitalism seeks
To subvert fellow men
Sacrificing others to one’s reason
Readily
Often
Systemically
In the name of Profit,
The almighty God
–The only self-interest
Which receives worship,
The singular idol
Sitting atop
The altar of industry
Do you not believe me?
The annals of history
Surely show
Such systemic sacrifice of others
Upon the altar of Profit

The “Reason” of true Philosophers
Would not aim at this
As Wisdom, the Good, or Love
Those are the true aims
Of “Reason”;
Not this solipsistically myopic,
Self-serving materialism
Should we see this
As worthy successor
To profound analyses of eudaemonia?
I laugh
What other response is fitting?
As Nietzsche once said:
“Not with anger, rather with laughter does one kill.” *

What of the “Reason” of the Stoics?
Would they not scoff as well?
Laughing at how poorly,
How childishly,
You, lady with delusions of grandeur,
Have misunderstood
The entire Universe
And our place in it
Those who vouch
For other such
Individualistic notions
Of Truth and Wisdom
Are equally lost.
No authentic seekers of Truth…
Merely idealistic demagogues
Preaching greed from soapboxes,
Rather than providing wisdom
Or anything of substance.
They are lost
Yet declare it insight
Seeing shadows on the wall
As deep, whole, and true
Rather than with the wise sight
That has seen the sun
The sight that sees them
As empty figures


The immature are their own enemies, doing selfish deeds which will bring them sorrow. That deed is selfish which brings remorse and suffering in its wake. But good is that deed which brings no remorse, only happiness in its wake.

Sweet are selfish deeds to the immature until they see the results; when they see the results, they suffer. Even if they fast month after month, eating with only the tip of a blade of grass, they are not worth a sixteenth part of one who truly understands dharma.

As fresh milk needs time to curdle, a selfish deed takes time to bring sorrow in its wake. Like fire smoldering under the ashes, slowly does it burn the immature.

Even if they pick up a little knowledge, the immature misuse it and break their heads instead of benefitting from it.

The immature go after false prestige – precedence of fellow monks, power in the monasteries, and praise from all. “Listen, monks and householders, I can do this; I can do that. I am right and you are wrong.” Thus their pride and passion increase.

Choose the path that leads to nirvana; avoid the road to profit and pleasure. Remember this always, O disciples of the Buddha, and strive always for wisdom.  — The Dhammapada; Verse 5, Lines 66-75


A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few person nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  — Albert Einstein, found in The Places that Scare You by Pema Chödrön

May this bring you to think differently about yourself and your place in society and the universe. May it bring you to desire authentic wisdom and reason. May it inspire you to the love of wisdom (philosophy) and lead you down the path of many questions and insights.
Gassho!

*”Nicht durch Zorn sondern durch Lachen tödtet man.” — Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra; Vom Lesen und Schreiben

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Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 4: Depression’s World

Heartbreak changes your entire experience. The world is literally different.

One of my favorite philosophers, Wittgenstein, said in his Tractatus (the following quote is my translation; I add the German original as a footnote to the post along with the original’s section number):

If good or bad willing changes the world, it can only change the limits of the world, not the facts; not that which can be expressed through language.
In short, the world must then through good or bad willing become an entirely different one. It must, so to speak, increase or decrease as a whole.
The world of the happy person is a different one than that of the unhappy person. [1]

Wittgenstein tells us here that the “world”–for him, the set of everything that is the case: the collection of all facts [2]–isn’t changed by a negative or positive perspective. Happiness doesn’t change the fact that 2+2=4, that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or that the shirt I’m wearing is blue. However, our experience of these facts as a whole, the world, changes in totality when we’re happy or sad–the limits of the world change. That same blue shirt is seen through two different sets of eyes, as it were.

This explication might beg the obvious question: “How could it be otherwise?” It may seem self-evident after the above discussion, but we regularly act as though those emotional states come from out there in the world rather than our own evaluation and reaction to it. We act as though emotions are just another fact amongst that totality of facts, not something that alters them as a particular perspective of the facts. Notice that I just pointed to the word “evaluation”. Wittgenstein would tell us that evaluation has nothing to do with the set of facts that is the world. Facts are facts. They can come in any order we want as the propositions that are the case. They don’t have any inherent value in themselves. There isn’t any inherent meaning or value to the fact that my shirt is blue. Evaluation stands outside the facts. [3]

This may seem an overly philosophical assertion for a post, so let’s put it differently with a quote from a Tibetan Buddhist:

The truth in this statement becomes clear when you pay attention to the inner processes that produce emotional states: you literally dream them up through a complex interaction of thoughts, images, bodily states, and sensations. Emotional reactivity does not originate “out there” in objects. It arises, is experienced, and ceases in you. [4]

This quote brings us back to a more grounded understanding of what has been said so far: the world out there is as it is, yet my reactions to it arise in myself–they are not part of the facts of all, no matter how much they feel to be, but they do change my experience of those facts. That blue shirt is neither hideous nor handsome in itself–those are evaluations, emotional reactions within me.

Now, to return to the emotion at hand: depression. Moods are the most pervasive of emotional filters which shape our experience of the world. They color not only one interaction or glance in the mirror of that blue shirt–they color everything. There’s wisdom to the saying: “seeing the world through rose-colored glasses”. This is what is really at stake with Wittgenstein’s final lines in the quote: The world of the happy person is different from that of an unhappy person. [5] Anyone who has undergone an experience of depression–and it is most definitely a going-under and something that is undergone without choice– will know that the world no longer is the same. Everything feels bereft of meaning, cold, foreign, lonely, empty, meaningless and/or pointless. In depression, all hopes have been dashed, and it appears both as though it was saccharine and naive to have ever hoped at all and that there is no reason to ever hope for anything again.

old-castle-ruins

Perhaps some would disagree with my description anchoring depression on the loss of hope, but I would describe the terrain of depression as a kingdom full of castles made of crushed hopes and dreams built upon the ground of hopelessness with a substrate of meaninglessness. Such a description fits well with both Beck’s cognitive triad–the depressed person’s view of self, world, and future become completely negative and hopeless of change–as well as the lived experience of time in depression–one of events coming forward and washing over you rather than actively moving towards your own goals and meanings. These are theories learned from my days as a psychology student, but the description and theories go along with my own personal experiences of depression as well.

The hopelessness of depression has a particular flavor in heartbreak. Not only does the world seem bleak, but in addition, there are constant points of comparison with another person, a life once had, a particular set of hopes and ideas lost. These comparisons can haunt entire days and wake you from deep sleep. Normal routines suddenly take on a dark glaze of loss that defies any attempt to ignore it or get around it. You might try to deny it through intensive storytelling or a rebound relationship or to distract yourself with booze or other means, or maybe, you won’t be able to try such coping behaviors at all and will instead spend night after night bawling your eyes out while watching movies on the couch. However, extreme measures are required to deny or ignore the loss of a person, the loss of a life–the world of one who is heartbroken is different than the world of one who is happy.

The heartbroken world is a dark and hopeless one, indeed, but the loss of hope offers the opportunity to approach life differently altogether. Hope and fear (they’re opposites and come together–two sides of the same coin. In hoping for something, I also carry fears of what the world will be like without that hope coming true) keep life in a game of ups and downs of samsara–a game of suffering through the attachment of desire and aversion. A broken heart allows the opportunity to develop a tender connection of compassion for the world outside of your own story of your hope and your fear. Put hope and fear aside and open yourself to the world just as it is rather than your evaluation of it. It’s truly a golden opportunity to realize authentic happiness rather than continuing to live in a world based on grasping for hopes and running from fears. This is the first steps of working with depression in practice and in stepping beyond its emotional terrain.


The word in Tibetan for hope is rewa; the word for fear is dopa. More commonly, the word re-dok is used, which combines the two. Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there’s one, there’s always the other. This re-dok is the root of our pain. In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keep looking for alternatives.

In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put “Abandon hope” on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.”

Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something: they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what’s going on, but that there’s something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.

Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do. We could smell that piece of shit. We could feel it; what is its texture, color, and shape?

We can explore the nature of that piece of shit. We can know the nature of dislike, shame, and embarrassment and not believe there’s something wrong with that. We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better “me” who one day will emerge. We can’t just jump over ourselves as if we were not there. It’s better to take a straight look at all our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence in our basic sanity arises.

This is where renunciation enters the picture–renunciation of the hope that our experience could be different, renunciation of the hope that we could be better. [6]

May this help others find their own empowerment and open possibilities in the barren lands of depression.
Gassho


Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry: Entry 3: Wounds
Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry: Entry 5: Depression – Experience & Practice

1 §6.43 Wenn das gute oder böse Wollen die Welt ändert, so kann es nur die Grenzen der Welt ändern, nicht die Tatsachen; nicht das, was durch die Sprache ausgedrückt werden kann.
Kurz, die Welt muß dann dadurch überhaupt eine andere werden. Sie muß sozusagen als Ganzes abnehmen oder zunehmen.
Die Welt des Glücklichen ist eine andere als die des Unglücklichen.
2 Tractatus–§1 Die Welt ist alles was der Fall ist. §1.1 Die Welt ist die Gesamtheit der Tatsachen, nicht der Dinge. §1.11 Die Welt ist durch die Tatsachen bestimmt und dadurch, daß es alle Tatsachen sind. §1.12 Denn, die Gesamtheit der Tatsachen bestimmt, was der Fall ist und auch, was alles nicht der Fall ist. (My translation: §1The world is everything that is the case. §1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not the totality of things. §1.11 The world is made certain through the facts and due to them being all the facts. §1.12 Because: the entirety of facts makes certain what is the case and what is not the case.)
3 See §6.4 and §6.41 of the Tractatus. I feel they are a bit too heady to include here.
4 Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche & Mark Dahlby, The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep, Kindle edition, loc. 1552.
5 For my fellow philosophers, compare all this with Heidegger’s discussions of Befindlichkeits–mood’s–impact on our understanding of the world in Being and Time.
6 Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, pp. 40-41.

Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 1–Moving On?

Disclaimer: This is something I actually started writing quite some time ago (the date in my journal is a month ago to the day). This topic grew and unfolded in many different directions from the original inspiration as I started putting it on the page. Due to this prodigious growth, I’m going to break this up into pieces, trying to focus each post on different aspects of this topic that I want to discuss. The first piece is about rebounds, primarily, having recently gone through a breakup and seeing people’s ideas and reactions about moving on. Sometimes they are geared toward grabbing the next person who comes along. This will be discussed alongside a discussion of our conceptualizations of romantic love and all the hidden issues that lie in those unanalyzed concepts. I aim to present a more mindful approach to yourself and Love in these posts.


A common maxim proclaims that there is no better way to get over the last than by getting under the next. Yet, what is the draw of a rebound? Why is it both a sought remedy and a denigrated followup to a broken heart?

Heartbreak challenges our ideas of ourselves and our world. Suddenly, a shared companion in the adventures of life, in your perspective, and in your memories is gone. There’s a hole. This absence is almost palpable, like an aching scar after a piece of oneself has been removed. Everything–and I mean almost every moment–makes it ache. You yearn for the ache to subside, and the easiest way is to cover up that hole–that lack, that ache–with something else, or in this case, someone else.

Furthermore, this pain is the loss of an entire way of life, a path into a now lost future. Where there once was a “we”, there is now just an “I”. Now, you are left alone with a broken idea of partnership, with that of a feeling incomplete, again as though a part of your identity had been removed, as though part of your story had been cut off. Is this identity crisis and this idea of love/partnership so painful that we must rush to find that completion elsewhere, even if only temporarily, until the edge has worn off?

I think that there is something to be said for being present to the pain of this loss–facing it head on. Covering it over with someone else is a band-aid, a denial of the pain of this moment. Psychological research speaks of the five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Moving on to someone else right away may seem like acceptance, a quickening of the grieving process, but it’s really a refusal to look back and feel. It’s a denial of the old loss through the replacement of a new gain. Perhaps, it’s no surprise that from my experience, rebounders act either as though their previous relationship never existed, or they are still tied up in knots about it and can’t stop talking about it if they start.

Under all of this discussed so far is the problem of identity (as I’ve previously pointed at our personal story in the experience). If you observe the way people talk about romantic love and how they seek it, it’s primarily about ego identity. A narrative of completion of one’s self in the Other lies at the core of so much talk about “Love” (here capitalized to emphasize our concept of it: Love as an idea, a placeholder of sorts while we investigate, and of course, we mean romantic love). We look for salvation, completion, rescue, and an ultimate, intimate connection–a holy communion– with the Other in Love. As such, Aristophanes’ depiction of Love as finding your other half to realize an original but now lost wholeness is so familiar. It’s human, all too human. From this familiar notion, Love is approached often as a communal “I” (We as one) or as another person who completes “me”, who fulfills many aspects of who “I am” and makes me whole. The continuation of the search and the desire for completion in the other is a bolstering of the story of “me”, the drama of ego. There’s a search here for certainty when life shows its uncertain, dynamic, unfolding nature–a sacred chaos of emergence. We seek an “I am” here in the arms of another, and this is completely understandable given the expression of the experience of loss that I have shared here. However, the confusion in this is that these experiences of pain and loss reflect on an underlying truth about my “self”: the dynamics of change are taken as a threat to my “self” as some set entity, when they are in fact, an expression of it–an unfolding, a time-being. The confusion is precisely around this idea of lacking something, no matter how much pain and desire for things to be otherwise may make it feel that way. The search for love as completion of myself with my “other half” is often denigrated, with the response: “I am already a whole person”. However, this duality of whole vs. incomplete merely continues the problem of ego. “I” am neither “whole” nor “incomplete” in their standard senses of needing or not needing more to be something. I already am sacred and luminous, neither “whole” in the sense of “perfect” or “incomplete” in the sense of “lacking something”. I am whole and perfect in the sense that I am precisely what I am in this moment, a particular configuration of conditions with the possibility of awareness and present, active compassion, yet this is always going to be pulled and covered over to some extent by my desire to not feel pain, to not suffer, to cover over that which I don’t want to face. As such, there is great value in standing present for the pain of losing a partner; it could be a moment for us to experience being awake to our lives as they are and acting from that open, tender place: a love which is not about my story, my self-bolstering, or my gratification–an active feeling and giving rather than the receptive filling of a lack. There’s no need for a rebound if you can be present to your own life as it is: not as you think it should be in your idealized concepts of yourself, Love, and what you “want”. Ultimately, this is about your relationship with yourself. Are you ready to look at that and question everything you take for granted? Are you ready to mindfully show up to your feelings and bring that into your next partnership, with whomever that may be? This is an invitation to actively embracing as I-You rather than the separation of I-It. You have the chance to gratefully feel the ebb and flow of your “self” with the beating of an open heart, but this requires the courage of staying present to those feelings and not running from them into an idea of completion and gratification: running into desire for pleasure rather than the love of your life, your fate, your world.

“We want to be perfect, but we just keep seeing our imperfections, and there is no room to get away from that, no exit, nowhere to run. That is when this sword turns into a flower. We stick with what we see, we feel what we feel, and from that we begin to connect with our own wisdom mind.

Without the maras, would the Buddha have awakened? Would he have attained enlightenment without them? Weren’t they his best friends ,since they showed him who he was and what was true? All the maras point the way to being completely awake and alive by letting go, by letting ourselves die moment after moment, at the end of each out-breath. When we wake up, we can live fully without seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, without re-creating ourselves when we fall apart. We can let ourselves feel our emotions as hot or cold, vibrating or smooth, instead of using our emotions to keep ourselves ignorant and dumb. We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest. Trying to run away is never the answer to being a fully human being. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life.

Looking at the arrows and swords, and how we react to them, we can always return to basic wisdom mind. Rather than trying to get rid of something or buying into a dualistic sense of being attacked, we take the opportunity to see how we close down when we’re squeezed. This is how we open our hearts. It is how we awaken our intelligence and connect with fundamental buddha nature.” – Pema Chödrön, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”, p. 72.

It doesn’t need to be this way unless you keep playing a game that you are constantly trying to win.