“Today, I will begin the day consciously.”
– Tian Dayton, “Daily Affirmations for Forgiving and Moving On”
While on my morning run I started thinking about why I got up before 6am, put on running shoes, and pounded wet pavement in the chilly morning. This thought often pops into my head, particularly early in my runs. Sometimes, I think about being healthy or sexy or strong. I also think about how running will increase the chances that I’ll have a longer life with Anna or see my nieces and nephews become grandparents or be around when civilian travel to Saturn is pretty common.
I didn’t think about those more practical things today, though. Instead, my mind kept going to more philosophical reasons for what I do, specifically waking up. I came to the conclusion that one of the reasons I do it is because I want to live, not just in the biological exist way but in a way that honors my life and the sacrifices my ancestors made and the gift that was given to me by God/fate/coincidence/nature/determinism. I don’t really believe in a personal God, but if I did I feel like that would be a strong motive for me to be healthier, to honor the gift I was given instead of abusing it.
We are really only living (ugh, English is really bad in this case, I need a better word) when we are doing things that aren’t biological necessities. Eating, sleeping, shitting, these are all needed to maintain our lives but when they become something we choose to do outside of our need then they become just another unhealthy addiction that we use to avoid life. Just like drugs, gossip, shopping, video games, exercise, and masturbation can do.
Warm beds on chilly mornings are comfortable, but life isn’t about comfort. We don’t grow and laugh and cry and suffer and enter states of ecstasy while comfortable. It is the Chaotic, Lawful, Good, and Evil characters that are interesting, not True Neutral. Life is lived on the edges of our potential, not in the comfortable middle.
Every person has an Overton Window that they operate in for every aspect of their being and to find out where the true edges of our potential lie we must push towards the ends of the window. Truly living isn’t static and it isn’t comfortable and it doesn’t happen under the warm covers after an unnecessary extra hour of shitty sleep that is interrupted every 7 minutes by a snooze alarm. There is a lot of life that can happen in bed, but it isn’t sleeping.
So, I push myself out of bed, pour coffee, be grouchy, and put on running shoes because that is when I’m alive. Instead of dragging myself through the day with this nagging feeling that I’m running behind or missed an opportunity to learn, grow, get stronger, and be uncomfortable, I enter the day feeling inspired. Living is tough and painful and challenging, but if it wasn’t then everyone would do it. And I don’t want to be just everyone.
What I read today is one of my favorite “chapters” in the book, and at three pages long it is also one of the longest. Part of me wants to just quote the whole thing but that would be out of control, nobody would read it, and it might be illegal (please don’t sue me). But, here is some of it.
The artist and the fundamentalist both confront the same issue, the mystery of their existence as individuals…
The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. He is lucky. He was born in the right place. He has a core of self-confidence, of hope for the future. He believes in progress and evolution. His faith is that humankind is advancing, however haltingly and imperfectly, toward a better world.
The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed. The word of God has been spoken and recorded by His prophet, be he Jesus, Muhammad, or Karl Marx.
Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed. Its spawning ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat… as white Christian fundamentalism appeared in the American South during reconstruction, as the notion of a Master Race evolved in Germany following World War I. In such desperate times, the vanquished race would perish without a doctrine that restored hope and pride. Islamic fundamentalism ascends from the same landscape of despair.
What exactly is this despair? It is the despair of freedom. The dislocation and emasculation experienced by the individual cut free from the familiar and comforting structures of the tribe and the clan, the village and the family…
The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in the their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.
Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction….
The fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He experiences it as temptation to sin… The fundamentalist hates and fears women because he sees them as vessels of Satan, temptresses like Delilah who seduced Samson from his power.
To combat the call of sin, the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return a purer world from which he and all have fallen…
When fundamentalism wins, the world enters a dark age… It may be that the human race is not ready for freedom. The air of liberty may be too rarefied for us to breathe… The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.
Well, I basically copied the whole thing. Damn it. Oh well. I’m sure many people of all political views will read this and think that the author is taking a shot at Trump and modern “conservatism” (it isn’t conservative, though it may be fundamentalist and nationalist). In some philosophical way he might be, but this book was written in 2002, long before the current political climate but possibly in response to 9/11. If someone reads a response to Islamic fundamentalism and thinks it is a response to them, that should give them pause, just like the Trump supporters who thought NPR was attacking them when the news outlet shared the Declaration of Independence on Twitter.
Alright, time to get the rest of my day started. I have work to do, worlds to create, and beer to drink. I hope y’all have a great Friday and wonderful weekend.
Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions: pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”