How to be vulnerable, part 2. Loneliness

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this is the strangest life I remember

I’m often asked if I don’t get lonely on my travels. And then I answer ‘no’, and the person asking the question usually hears ‘yes’, because they think they would be and cannot imagine any other possibility. A lot of people dreaming of taking a step to the side of society fears loneliness, as in being outside the herd. I’m not lonely on my travels, but I do get lonely on those occasions when I visit society. 

Loneliness is not something that happens when you’re alone. It’s contagious. It’s an open wound, a gaping, roaring chasm that, ironically connects all modern humans. Nothing brings us together more than our loneliness.

We think ourselves so alone that we look to other planets, even go as far as to communicating with or attempting to revive the dead for company.

We scrape together small groups of families and friends, and they might put a lid on the loneliness, but they can’t heal it. They might, if you’re very lucky, put such a lid on your loneliness that you can ignore it for as long as you live, apart from in those silent hours of dawn. And you will always be afraid that they will leave you or die. Which they will.

The usual way of dealing with this, when taking a step to the side, is to make yourself not want company. This is taught in several religious practices, such as Buddhism, and most western self-help pseudo religion. You learn a sort of smarmy detachment where you love and respect all as long as they don’t get too close. You either build a shield around you or you cut yourself off to such a degree that you think yourself beyond all emotional damage, eternal in your enlightened loneliness.

Western philosophy is infected with solipsism, the idea that we are all alone in our heads and that we can not know what other beings think or feel or if they even exist. This is shared by most of the people who have influenced our way of thinking and it’s utterly absurd. In some ways, they’re right of course. It’s difficult to put yourself into the mind of another, hence the confusion when people ask about my presumed loneliness. The flaw is to believe we exist in our minds and that it matters what or if anything else thinks.

In modern (by modern, I mean what has grown and gained traction for the past 5000 years or so) society there is loneliness embedded in the system. Civilization works by cutting people off from the world and from each other, teaching us to look to gods or leaders or rules for meaning and that if you simply exist, there’s something wrong with you, or you’re not living fully. 

For a lot of people, the markers of loneliness are formed by opportunities. Not what they have, but what they are told they can have, conversation, sex etc. Often it surprises people that none of these things make the loneliness go away when achieved.

The loneliness we have is from being severed from life and death. From ‘nature’ if you will. The word ‘nature’ itself shows how far this has gone. That we even have a word to separate us, make us lonely. Our language, while usually seen as a mean of forming connections, is full of more or less subtle ways and words for cutting us off. It doesn’t need to be though, as this article on the Irish language explores.

Nature is not the trees, it’s not a bird or a beetle. It’s everything that lives with and feeds on everything else. And to be civilized is to have your whiskers plucked out, tendrils severed so we can’t feel, we can’t notice the life that surround us. Even outside the hermetic houses we only get the vaguest sense of what’s there. We are existential cripples.

Or in other words, we’re lonely.

Rewilding means healing this as far as possible. In this context, with this in mind, it’s not dangerous to love. Or, to attach yourself to what seems fleeting and unsure. And you’re never alone. I do love. I do miss people that live where I grew up. I miss people I meet on my travels. I grieve when someone dies, and I have losses I will never get over. I can start to care about someone really quick and think about them often. But not being with them doesn’t mean that I’m lonely. Not as long as I get to be outside civilized society. Not as long as I can hear birds. I’m not afraid to love. But it does scare me how fast my new found senses deteriorates as soon as I step back into a city, or even an agricultured landscape. So why do I go back? Oh, for the company of those I care about of course. I’m nothing if not the embodiment of ambiguity.

The place of dead roads

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It seemed more fun when Burroughs wrote about it.

I said that I would return to matters of life and death, and now I am. I have reached the place of dead roads. The map, inner or outer, no longer works.  I’m still hovering on the outskirts of the London cancer, wondering how to cross.

Not only are the roads physically broken by potholes and cracked concrete, blocked by constant accidents and aimless digging, but the very network of roads in this place is broken, or never worked. It is increasingly clear that the roads here were all forced upon the land and the land and rivers and lines themselves tampered with to fit human needs.

Also, the inner map and navigation system is out of function. The goals and destinations I had in mind either don’t exist or has ceased to carry meaning. The reason for this is to be found in stories.

The more I travel, and the more I move to the outskirts of mind, body and civilization, there are two narratives, two mental threads, or roads, that emerge.

One is the story of the individual immortality. Unlike Burroughs, I can’t accept the way gods and the soul is presented to us. In all the stories we know, the individual has a body that perishes and a soul that is, or has the capacity to move on to, something everlasting. Often there are gods involved. Either to hinder the process, to further it, or as something to merge with at the end of the journey.

In some narratives, the body, or a representation of it, follows the soul, recreating an image of the person. In some, the soul is moved on to another being, but usually as a whole, self-contained set of memories and ideas.

What is however becoming increasingly clear in the world, is that in the attempt to reach longevity or individual immortality, humans have ruined their hope to survive, in any form. They have eaten up the earth and taken away the matter of their bodies, removed it from the cycle to be re-used. They have killed almost all other beings to make room for their offspring, their self-images. In their ideas of gods, human shaped or abstracted, they have removed themselves from the cycle of life and death.

There are, of course, images, ideas and stories about the circle, but always tainted with the implication that the human spirit is different, better in a way.  And while people can read and understand words about becoming one with nature, we have no real stories for it, and therefor we can’t understand what it means. The closest I can think of are Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and they don’t really cover it.

Also, those that denounce the spirit, do so in everything, because to them, if humans can’t have a soul, nothing can.

I like living as much as the next squirrel, eel or badger, I enjoy having a body.  I’m rather attached to it. But the body is made of matter, of cells. They come from something, from somewhere. From what you eat and drink and breathe. All human practice surrounding life and death has been an attempt of closing these cells off, hindering them to go back to the earth. To encapsulate them in stone, to freeze them in space and time, to burn them before the fungi and earthworm get to take back what we have borrowed. Because we do borrow all our matter from the earth. Not from your parents or children, not other humans, not some god. From nature. From everything that we construct ourselves of.

We are told that the pyramids are great achievements, that human immortality is a good and great goal and it isn’t. It’s a horror. It has always been and can only be a horror.

And all the things we are told to want are somehow linked up to this. Every item, every garden, everything constructed or spun as a story. Everything we think we know and think we want. The whole idea of self fulfillment, contrasted to being ruled over by gods or humans and given as the only option to this, gives rise to dreams and images that can only be sterile still life. We think of the scavenger and of rot as something vile, but it’s our only way to reach anything close to immortality. To be part of life and death once more. Your roads are broken because your stories are broken.

Human civilization holds nothing for me and the wild, the real, the world that balances itself, is temporarily ruined. And human tampering with it only makes matters worse, because it is done with the same, broken stories as guidelines.

To possibly slightly twist the meaning of the words of Poe; The play is the tragedy man and the hero the conqueror worm.

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Coming up: The need for a new apocalypse.