If I had to choose only one writer who has had an enormous impact on my life, I would say Kurt Vonnegut’s name with hushed and amused reverence. Although there are many writers who could easily take that spot, when I think about the improbable and chaotic machinery of the universe and the profoundly monstrous, silly, or soulful ways in which humans respond to it—it has to be him. None of his public statements are actually small. Even the marginalia of his life turns assumptions about existence on their ears.
Taking a Different Tack
So, when I asked myself in an unruffled and curious way, “What exactly am I doing with my life?” It’s quite natural that he would come to mind. Normally, this question heralds a sort of existential crisis mode—a frantic quest for both meaning and purpose that ultimately gets buried by daily considerations. And so it goes unanswered. This is perhaps not so much because there are no answers, but because my focus and motivation are specifically, narrowly channeled.
Happiness, like love, comes in a variety of flavors. Each is a unique species. This morning brought me a quiet, restful variety that speaks of open doors and windows on a Golden afternoon. It’s flavored with birdsong, distant sounds of traffic, a breeze running it’s fingers over and through green, growing things. So, I pondered my question in this whispering space, felt my tree self take it up and send it through all the filaments and cells of my being.
Happiness. Yes, in spite of all that I see in the world and all the challenges with which I currently contend , I felt it in the center of me. It glowed, not like an ember or something that consumes, but like a little fragment of solid sunlight, persistent in its presence. And my question was not a desperate cry for meaning, but a deliberate walk towards an open doorway.
The Echo of Attention
I do not know my meaning, my purpose, my path. Yes, it makes me uncomfortable to feel I am not of use or of service. My life has been one of gathering—skills and ideas. But to what end, to what work have I put them? I stood in this doorway, with the sense of a rock in my spirit shoe, a small discomfort but no reason to tear down my house out of angst.
Instead, I thought about the human brain. It learns to filter out so much of what is presented. We teach it in order to preserve our sanity as social animals, but I this has a cost. Our visual cortex makes up our perception of the world out of a few thousand bits per second. Yet the eye is constantly sending to it billions of those bits, those 0s and 1s for lack of a better term, each moment. What, at any given second, are we not seeing? For it is not just the perception of our nose in the midst of our field of vision or the misconception that the world disappears each time we blink that we filter out.
Two ideas that say the same thing in different languages come to mind. The first is the idea of “vibrations.” This is not wholly specious, considering that we’re made of matter, and by extension energy, which does vibrate. But that idea bag has been stretched to accommodate concepts that can be rationally expressed only if the person thinking about them has the linguistic framework to do it.
In other words, ideas about vibration, or vibrating on the “right frequency” are attempts by people who lack scientific training or that lexicon to express the second idea—attention. This is quite demonstrable, testable, repeatable, even considering how uncooperative humans are as test subjects. If you focus on the idea of a blue car, you will see them everywhere, almost as if they appeared out of thin air. Did they? No. Even taken from the perspectives of the pre-exercise moment and the second following the shift in your attention, it’s clear that they were there all along.
These ideas say the same thing to me in different ways. And I wonder what I might bring closer to myself by focusing my attention and intention, not on a specific goal or job that has yet to materialize in even a conceptual way, but in this moment. I’m not even certain I can name what I need—purpose, fulfillment, evolution of the self. The ideas that come to me are, as yet, without defined features. They are general.
Come to Me
Returning to the concept of attention-vibration, I think what I must do now is not a matter of specificity. I don’t know what I want, by name or in detail. I don’t, and wishing or trying to force it into focus has been counterproductive. Instead, I get the sense that whatever I’m meant to do knows me, and my work is to start moving, doing whatever is good in this moment.
There is worthy work, plenty of new connections to be made, and projects to begin. The point is to be doing, out in the world. I feel as if I’ve been going about things improperly. By seeking to define an end state that is itself a product of an almost infinite combination of variables that themselves are in flux is to try and impose the rigidity of what is already made onto what cannot even yet be imagined.
I cannot reverse engineer my future. But I can choose to notice that I am happy. I can stand in this doorway and ask where I will go next. What I am doing is taking back my intentions from forces nebulous or familiar. I have been existing with the assumption that the map of self exists, that all the features of my life from here forward already have a form, and that my task was to travel into the future, much as I would a landscape, armed with this map of made forms.
What I find may actually be the case is more akin to Ellis’ modification of Einstein’s relativity. The 4th dimension is not, in fact, predetermined, with past and future being indistinguishable from each other. It does not exist as an independent medium. Instead, it presents one, fixed state in the past and a null or infinitely variable flux state in the future. The latter is built by the present moment, its conditions, and, on a personal scale, individual choices.
Since I have no desire to limit any part of the universe or its mechanics, this leads me to two conclusions. My future is a product of both my attention and my present-state decisions. These are interdependent. The future is written by what I do and by what I notice, which leads me back to my earlier state of mind.
In essence, I am choosing to notice good things, to be optimistic about the human capacity for self-rescue, and to not wait for my future form to make itself known before I’ve done anything to build it. I cannot yet imagine what will be, perhaps because it’s form is beyond my body of experience, so far-future goal-setting behavior is counterproductive. What am I prepared to do now or tomorrow or early next week?
For some, this is a given understanding. But I think there are more people like me who need the quasi-revelatory experience. We were not taught that the future is undetermined to quite such a degree. Our universe was prepackaged as Einstein drew it, with limited paths predetermined, no matter which way Time’s Arrow points.
Now go and read The Sirens of Titan and God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.