3.08.2016

Peace Amidst the Teem with Reference to Kierkegaard



I like to go to the ocean. Not in the ocean, mind you. Its tumult terrifies me. Plus, I can't swim. So there's that. Being at the ocean's edge, however, is at once calming and exhilarating. (I want to say that being at the ocean's edge is what Kant would call beautiful; being in the ocean is what he'd call sublime. One enjoys free-form proportion; the other, absolute excess.)

It's not just the ocean and its sense — its whiff, its warp and woof — but solitude in general that gives me peace. The farther I am from the mayhem of the social, its noise and needs, the calmer I become. But it's not just calm I experience. It''s joy, an inundation with the thisness of the universe, its infinite becoming. It gets me high.

But then I have to return to the demands of the social — to jobs and women and rent and asshole cable companies and shitty drivers and phones that refuse to work— and my peace and exhilaration vanish in an impossibly swift woosh.

It's easy to say the fault is with people and our world. And there is no doubt we live in an unsustainable culture that demands nothing less than the evacuation of our souls, our vitality, our health, our very being.

Still, my lack of peace is not the culture's fault. It's not Comcast's fault or a woman's fault or the fault of the relentless San Francisco construction and traffic and tech buses and sky rocketing rent and greedy landlords. No, it's my fault. I have trouble holding my peace amid the torrent.

Kierkegaard proffers four stages on life's way. There's the aesthetic which lives in the immediate now of desire and whim (a version of the id, I suppose). There's the ethical in which life is mediated by the civic and its demands for propriety (the super ego of a sort). And then there's the religious which has two phases. The religious in general is the embracing of the infinite. Kierkegaard calls the first phase infinite resignation, those who commit their lives completely to the infinite. Picture monks who live in a remote monastery eating gruel and speaking little.

And then there's the final phase of the religious: the knight of faith. This person lives simultaneously in the finite and the infinite. He — or, yes, she — enjoys the peace and joy of infinite resignation but while living in the social — being married, having a job, negotiating assholes and traffic.

I can imagine my life of infinite resignation. I'd go to the ocean's edge and never return home, never take another client call, never fight with a girlfriend again, never whine and wail when my internet is down. I'd be at peace, exhilarated, all the freakin' time. I do have this persistent dream of awaying myself to the desert and living out my days in an Airstream, far from the madding crowd, until I succumb to death's gentle embrace.

It's seductive, this infinite resignation. It calls to me, beckons, whispers and winks with its come-hither. But I have a kid and I love him infinitely and I'm not leaving him as I absquatulate with my soul and, alas, money.

Plus, something feels insufficient about it. Weak. Like a fleeing rather than a reckoning. Which may be idiotic, my false consciousness based on a weird machismo: I must be wise and strong! Perhaps infinite resignation is the easy way out, relatively speaking. But I wouldn't mind an easy way out. Who wouldn't, right?

In any case, like it or not, here I am and here I remain, in 2016 San Francisco, a shit storm of civilization (he says from a position of white middle class privilege). But kvetching, while no doubt affording a certain pleasure, doesn't suffice. Wailing and whining is only destructive to me and those very few around me.

The trick, then, is to take that peace I find at the ocean and carry it with me always — in traffic, on hold with Comcast, negotiating the inane demands of this life. Life may be suffering but that's no reason to suffer. I just need to fortify my fortitude. Or perhaps rather than working on building my strength, I need to let go of all nonsense, surrender infinitely all day every day, the wu wei.

Or I can just wait until my kid graduates high school and then flee to the high lands or hinter lands or whatever lands will have me and resign myself, infinitely.

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