There's this beautiful moment when the intensity of the light gives, the world relaxing its clenched sphincter and, just like that, I perk up. I feel a surge of energy. Don Juan tells Carlos to be careful at sunset; it's a powerful time and, if you're not careful, things can go awry. I know exactly what he means. I like to respect this cosmic shift by toasting it with a cocktail. I never day drink; it's unseemly (not in the social sense but in the cosmic sense, in the energetic sense). And I rarely night drink. I enjoy my cocktails as a way to respect dusk, to temper that surge just so (mind you, I don't want to overdo it; that would be disrespectful to all involved — the sun, the day, the earth, me).
So here I sit before my screen as music gently fills the room — Lemon Jelly, at the moment — with a glass of tequila at the ready, neat, in one of my hand blown tequila glasses. This is a perfect moment. Few things, if any, afford me such sheer, unqualified contentment. As I was dropping my son off earlier at a friend's birthday party, I awaited this exact moment with tingling anticipation. When another parent asked what the evening held for me — he was staying to socialize with other parents — I couldn't contain myself: Oh, I'm gonna go home and write. "Are you writing something in particular?" he asked, "or is it top secret?" I was briefly thrown by the question. What was I going to write? What do I write in general? Should it be top secret? What kind of writing would that be? But all I said was: Oh, whatever pops in my head.
I find the social exhausting. It takes some energy for me to figure out the rules of the occasion and then much more energy to adhere to these rules. It's not that I can't read the social; I can size up a room quickly and well (so I believe, at least). I don't experience social anxiety; I am comfortable talking (no duh, Coffeen! If only you were less comfortable talking thinks anyone who's ever spent time with me).
The source of exhaustion is manifold. I don't know the things people talk about; I don't read newspapers. When I hear people talking or see posts on the Facebook, I think: Jeez, I don't even know how to enter these conversations — about the president, sexual harassment, guns. I may have opinions. But in order to express them, I'd have to ask for time to establish, then clarify, my presuppositions. This, alas, is a) absurd; b) supremely difficult; and c) absolutely exhausting. I don't know how people talk to each other.
I don't offer any of this as a judgment or condemnation of people and their conversations. I am not suggesting that I am so different, so special, that I have to remain outside the social — a martyr, paying the price of loneliness for my idiosyncrasies. I am saying, however, that aren't we all so different? Don't we all have strange world views that rarely, if ever, sync with public discourse? I don't know what people talk about; I don't know how they do it. It appears I am socially inept, after all.
Other than my inability to navigate conversations with any grace, I find that when I'm with other people, I expend too much energy. I lean too far forward, too eager to make a joke, too eager to make some insight I find interesting, some connection with the other person that may or may not be desired. When I'm in the social, I am rarely poised. I'm a dog who hears the words walk and treat and can't contain himself, all drool and paws. I get overexcited and try to please (which is ironic in that I usually have the opposite effect). I try to be affable.
Which is why I don't like people spending the night at my house, especially in my bed. I can't shut down; I can't stop trying to please. As a result, I can't sleep — which is more annoying for my company than it is for me. After an evening with other people, I am thoroughly spent.
It feels like I have a faulty mechanism, a valve that is either open too much or not enough. And so I spend a lot of time alone. For here in my refuge, I have everything I need, everything I want — peace most of all.
But these asocial tendencies have drawbacks. In an immediate and crass sense, it hinders my ability to enjoy the company of women on an ongoing basis. It turns out, after a few dates, she expects to spend the night. I can do my darndest to explain my way out of that but, alas, there is no way that ever — ever — plays well. Such is the social: one's movements have semiotic ramifications beyond one's control. I may not mean any insult when asking a woman to leave at 12:42 AM, post-coitus, but my act has significance beyond my intention, my control, my personal meaning.
Such is the nature of being in the world: we are never masters. We don't have a domain; we are in the mix. The things we do and say resonate beyond us, without us, having effects we may never have intended or predicted. Such is life: it is to participate in a social body which has demands and logics that figure us despite our best intentions. To live in this world demands abandoning control.
Rather than join the fray, my instinct is to withdraw completely. But this is a losing proposition. I have a son; an ex-wife; I need to make money with other people. And I enjoy many aspects of romantic entanglement — sex, physical intimacy in general, existential intimacy. And love: I love to love. Who doesn't?
Which is related to another drawback. Being alone, I am free to indulge many of my worst traits. What makes them my worst? They leave me less healthy, or better, less vital ("health" is too medical for me; I may have technically poor health but still be vital. "Vital" is a better mode of assessment). Rather than find resounding cosmic peace, I find local, domestic peace. Sure, no one is bothering me at the moment. But I still see the world as a place of bother — and hence don't experience a peace that permeates, that streams through me. All I experience is a little respite from my personal madness.
Other people, then, afford me an opportunity to find that peace. Yes, I can meditate when no one is around and feel the resonant flow of all things. But that flow bypasses the social all together. At these moments, I move from myself to the infinite without any regards to others. But this involves deploying special blinders, keeping my eyes focused on the sky and not the sounds of the social.
Kierkegaard posits a religious state of being that enjoys an immediate relationship with the infinite. No need for marriage, for religion, for social institutions: we can have a direct relationship with the infinite without going through any of those things. But there are two aspects of this religious state. There is the one who takes leave of the social, becomes an ascetic, and devotes her entire life to God. But there's another one, the knight of faith, who doesn't need to renounce the social because she has such profound faith. This knight steps into the infinite and back to the finite with each step she takes. This is Abraham who bypasses the social when he ascends Mt. Moriah to slay his only son and then returns to his wife and community as if nothing happened!
What blows Kierkegaard away, and what incites me so, is precisely this ability: to have a direct relationship with the infinite and with the finite. For Kierkegaard, this is the lesson of Jesus, he who is both man and god at once. So are we all both human and divine, finite and infinite, mortal and immortal.
The thing is, the social can be so trying. The ego, in particular, is such a nasty beast. I become afraid she'll leave me, become disgusted by me, lose interest in me, become annoyed by me. And this, in turn, makes me ill at ease — which, of course, makes me disgusting, annoying, boring. The only way to live in the social without such dis-ease is to let all that happens happen without attachment, with a perpetual so it goes. Just as I watch the clouds come and go, I try to learn to let love come and go.
Then again, there is a great temptation — and a great joy — in experiencing the undulations of human all-too-human being. To be in the throws of passion, to feel great hurt, great loss, great lust. How do I do both of these things — be detached and utterly human? Did Osho ever get really pissed off? Have an anxiety attack? Do or say something stupid in order to win another's heart, touch, lips?
Without other people, I don't know any of these answers. I don't know how to be in the fullness of this life. And so rather than see other people as my disintegration, I try to see them as a meditative practice. How can I be here talking to you, talking to her, being with her, and still be absolutely at peace? How do I stand in the social with poise, without leaning too far forward or too far back? How can I be with all of this world, not just with the clouds and sky, not just with ideas and books, but with the flesh of this world — with its caresses, stumbles, pains, stinks, and pleasures?
So, yes, I can meditate alone. I can find a peace alone. But this is the move of the ascetic, of the nay-sayer who finds this world too much to bear and so retreats from life, staying home alone with the blinds drawn. I want to be that knight of faith, the one who is absolutely at peace whether he's alone or with others, who walks with equanimity among clouds and people alike.