Eventually, we will all experience a profound sense of loneliness. We will realise that however close we are to others, we will still suffer intimately, excessively, alone. This assumed isolation from others may drive some to despair and others to desperation; we seek and thirst for attachment. Yet, what isolation do we know of when we have already acquired language, and through language, meaning and association. What loneliness do we speak of when we can already see, hear, speak and write. The multitude of blind, deaf and mute cannot begin to express their sense of separation from the rest of the world. They cannot even assert their loneliness as superior to ours, for we do not know them at all.
“It is characteristic of many neurologists (and patients) that they mistake intransigence for strength, and plant themselves like Canutes before advancing seas of trouble, defying their advance by the strength of their will. Or, like Podsnaps, they deny the sea of troubles which is rising all around them: “I don’t want to know about it; I don’t choose to discuss it; I don’t admit it!” Neither defiance nor denial is of the least use here: one takes arms by learning how to negotiate or navigate a sea of troubles, by becoming a mariner in the seas of one’s self. “Tribulation” dealt with trouble and storm; “Accommodation” is concerned with weathering the storm.” – Oliver Sacks, Awakenings
In our lifetime of troubles big and small, we must learn to accept and manage every situation as it arrives. It must be done so with as little ego as possible, for trouble is trouble enough.
“In that long time of captivity I had also come to know all the many people that were in me. Here again, I saw the same: many different qualities in each man and each of them looking and seeking for expression. Though we were all different, our shared suffering had made of us a collective community. We sought to complement each other, to understand the different aspects of each others’ personalities and meet with them meaningfully. By so doing we were always aware of each others’ mood swings and frustrations. […] But as I came to know each of them in the confines of this room, I began to re-understand that each man’s humanity and capacity to love expresses itself in different forms. In those sharing moments I discovered qualities that were lacking in myself.
The squabbling, when it did come, came over insignificant things. Always it is the case that when the mind is empty or tired or when like a child we need to be fed, we cry out in tantrums. Some men needed to be proved right to gain a small victory over their neighbour. It was a means of restoring identity. We all needed these things and we sometimes turned squabbling like hungry birds fighting over crumbs. At other times we realised the pettiness and futility and turned away embarrassed.” – Brian Keenan, An Evil Cradling
The above excerpt provides advice on sustaining a marriage, or any other relationship that involves living closely with another:
- We have many different qualities in each of us. We can be inconsistent.
- We should understand these qualities and
- meet with them meaningfully (i.e. not to pick a fight).
- We must be aware of our own and their moods and frustrations.
- We should seek to understand their expression of love.
- We should discover qualities to learn from.
- We should not care too much about squabbles.
- Remember that both of you are a collective community.
All in all, we should seek to understand another, with patience and an open heart.
“As we suffered with a friend his deep moments of loneliness and grief, that awful renunciation of life itself, we each of us acquired, almost instinctually, a deeper and richer capacity for joy, for humour, for laughter. When you have so little you find joy in insignificant things.” – Brian Keenan, An Evil Cradling
A sense of morbidity is healthy; for the ponderance of death informs life.
Most of us live in relative monotony and take comfort in the lack of change. This sense of continuity causes us to take for granted – life. We deny the possibility of sudden death as that would be too impossible to happen to us, right? Yet we all learn from the news, that young men die in marathons and good folks pass away in accidents. It is definitely possible for us to die without reason.
Hence, blessed are those who know when they may die; and the rest of us should maintain some fear of dying. We should ask ourselves, “If I were to die tomorrow, would I be satisfied with life?”, “If I were to die after we part, have I told you that I love you?”, “If I were to die tonight, have I left a mark?”
“We have no knowledge, that is, no general principles drawn from the contemplation of particular facts, but what has been built up by pleasure and exists in us by pleasure alone…the knowledge both of the poet and the man of science is pleasure…poetry is the first and last of all knowledge – it is as immortal as the heart of man.” – Lyrical Ballads by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth
It is valuable to born again this pleasure – of accumulation and making sense of knowledge. This self-motivated endeavour enriches one’s soul as well as mind, and makes one a more wholesome being. Also, to derive by instinct an understanding of the world; to uncover truths between lines of poetry; is mysterious and exciting. It gives one the opportunity to be an explorer in this set world, and to discover for himself his own philosophy.
“The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where one question grew before.” – Thorstein Veblen, 1908
The pleasure of learning is in finding more doubts; and to learn that these questions can lead to more questions; to infinite learning opportunities. It is with the expansion of questions that we can expand our minds.