Aren’t You Supposed To Be Someone By Now?

At some point in life your are supposed to have found your place, to be somebody. You are what you work, be it in a job, an artistic profession, or something else you deem useful and fulfilling. You are what you care about, regardless whether this “caring” is extrinsically or intrinsically motivated.

I never quite understood this chain of thoughts. We get our sense of who we are from the occupation we seeemingly chose years ago. Leaving fates (or “hidden” choices) like unemployment, sickness, a bad turn of events aside, the idea is that we are what we do. If we don’t do anything, or something we’re obviously not destined to do, we see the person at tatters, a soul lost in incomprehensible drifting. Why doesn’t she change? Why didn’t she make more of her chances and abilities? Why did she throw away (!) all her gifts? What a terrible waste of life.

Supposing that people in fact can do something to change their lifes, what kind of change could that be? If they don’t radiate passion and cheerfulness, they need therapy. [1] It’s not only about having a job to earn a living; the job has to be fullfilling, touching one’s inner core, realizing one’s full potential. To make a mark on the world. In doing so, we accept responibility for our lives, otherwise not.

But this is odd. We’ve learnt what responsibility is when we were asked to bear the consequences of our deeds and actions. Responsibility belongs to actions, not to life as a whole. Trying to be that responsible, ridiculous as it is, amounts to little more than being in charge for everything that happens – shunning the gods and enthroning Commander Power-Ego.

The best version of this can be found in some esoteric circles. The 3-Part-Credo is this: You are responsible for everything that happens to you. Everything that happens to you you chose, in this or in a former life. You can and will get everything, if you really want it. 

What a relief! The Jews chose their own gasification! The Nazi wardens in Auschwitz and Buchenwald simply assisted them in a fate they themselves had chosen in a former life or in some limbo in between. So who’s to blame? Not the Nazi wardens, of course, because they were only of assisting help in a self-imposed spiritual destiny. Obviously, if at all, the Jews themselves because they enticed and manipulated the Nazi wardens into gasifying them to purify their rotten souls. (Or some other crap.) The victim becomes the real culprit, and the former culprit just a victim in the broader play of kharma and life. [2] Yes, cancer is good for you, it leads to enlightenment. [3]

But more to the point – you can get everything if you really want to. And if you try. That just means that if you don’t achieve you never really wanted it at all. Well, who is to blame now? Are you still lamenting about chances in life long gone? Are you still not able to see that everything depends on you, not anybody else? How convenient this ideology is. An eloquent pretext for slashing welfare – because everybody is on his own now – while at the same time pointing to the injustice lying in the fact that some have to work hard – those at the top, of course – while others leading a life of permanent holiday in the hammock. This nice contradiction of individualism (everybody on his own) and collectivism (it’s unfair that some work hard while others live in the hammock) is played out whenever whichever horn is needed to intimidate and to rein.

But the things reach further. People not only believe that they are what they do, not only do they feel inferior and shabby if they don’t have something to do (i.e. “work”). Furthermore, there is this feeling that we are a single self whose identity is formed by the occupations we chose, by the family we have, by the little world we create. Our self consists in what it possess. It is thus, by definition, a greedy self.

Greed isn’t restricted to possession of objects but extents to the consumption of experiences, events, impressions, nice times. We have to consume interesting stuff – ideas, ways of living, styles of music, etc. – or we don’t live life to its fullest, meaning: getting as much out of it as possible before we drop into the box. Experiences and events don’t need to lie outside, they may just be found in the inner realms as well. Enlightenment becomes the utmost cool thing, freedom of suffering the goal. How many (Western) Buddhists acknowledge that Buddha declined to step from the Wheel of Reincarnations as long as there is still one suffering being left? And in doing so chose suffering in the midst of all other suffering beings as a way of mercy and solidarity? [4]

So don’t blame Capitalism that we cannot stop plundering the planet. Don’t point to greedy CEOs. Don’t even point to the “fact” that “life” is ever “changing,” giving you the ideal excuse to buy the next gadget.

There are, of course, miracles.

We live in societies that have to produce abundances of stuff in order that the people can buy essentials. Sometimes it looks like a Zen riddle to me. Or is it perhaps really true that Capitalism is a very neat copy of what happens in Nature? Envisage a summer meadow full of buzz, odours, flowers, insects, all the humming. There has to be this incredible abundance so that each tiny little insect can get around (instead of not being alive at all). Is it that you need abundance and richness in order for even a tiny fly to have it’s necessities to get by? If this is so, then it would not only make perfect sense to produce this vastness of stuff, it would be natural as well. We have to produce Netbooks in order to buy some baps. We have to have globalization in order to have a decent meal for supper.

I’m not sure. I would challenge the equation by distinguishing between vastness and diversity, by contrasting the abundance of differences in a summer meadow (quality) with the abundance of ever the same cheap items (quantity). I would claim that Capitalism doesn’t necessarily enhance but rather reduces possibilities and opportunities of choice – in products as in life options. [5] And I would ask who on the summer meadow and who in Capitalism is paying the prize for whom to be well off.

But my main concern is with this one-sidedness of being a single mind, an individual self. I don’t hint to everyday experiences that show that we really are not that confined to ourselves at all. I simply wonder about the distinction between “my life” and “the world” that people insist on a regular basis. How did they come to such a distinction? [6] How did they come to cherish self-reliance as a value? Why is independence such a goal? 

Self-realization – be it as the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company or as monk in a temple – is a one-sided ideology. You realize yourself. Both the CEO and the monk reach way beyond (or deep down beyond) their realms of private idiosyncrasies to touch an ultimate reality not of their own making but of being through them. Both do that in isolation, not in a community. They are alone. This sets them free.

I’m not that much interested in healing, therapy, enlightenment. A path is not what made you succeed, it’s not the things that turned out fine. A path is what put you through, what kept you going through all the niceties but especially through all the cruel, the devastating, the miserable. A path is what kept you going through everything that didn’t work, that kept you moving in spite of everything that didn’t work. Because life is too big to be able to be responsible for it.

We are not what makes us specific, individual. Our idiosyncrasies, our gifts, our abilities and inclinations, our habits and personal traits, they are there right from the start. There is nothing to improve. The only healing effect of therapy is to end it and to stop the fight against who you are and what your history was. On the contrary: We are not and don’t become a person through differentiation, not through the terrible twos nor self-realization. We are and become a person through identification, and the understanding what besides all differences we have in comon which each other. We are not our job, our occupation. We are not what we are good at. We are when we are able to listen to the wind that brings some whispers from the gods. When we make room for the ancestors. When we show some mercy. When we accept that the things have their own time, not ours. When we accept that we are not what we do but how much of the gentle wind we allow to pass through us. When we become a place, not a liability or an option.


[1]  This is not going to be a variation on Barbara Ehrenreich’s attack on Positive Thinking (“Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America”) I think her analysis stays rather at the surface of a much bigger (or deeper) problem.
[2]  This rude formulation only illustrates a brutal ideology. Much of esoteric ideology along those lines is simply disguised fascism. It finds a cruel variation in the subliminal accusation of goys against Jews that they, the Jews, make the goys feel miserable because of the history of persecution and extermination. If the Jews hadn’t been around at all the goys hadn’t fallen from grace and became culpable. On victimhood you may read further here and here.
[3]  To quote an example from Barbara Ehrenreich, see [1].
[4]  Saint Francis of Assisi on the other hand is said to have talked to or at the animals. But he did not talk with them, so seemingly didn’t learn from them and didn’t live with them. The gap still exits, the solidarity and mercy only goes so far.
[5]  The enhancement of opportunities Capitalism indeed can provide is only for a minority of privileged and affluents.
[6]  No, it has almost nothing to do with Descartes. For some sketches you may read further in my A Flock of Birds, The Karma of Places, A World Created Anew.


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