Life = Prison?

Well, that got dark pretty quickly, huh?

Unfortunately, this is just how I have been feeling over the past week-and-a-bit. A small disclaimer first though. I am fully aware that living in the West is a charmed existence and just another day in paradise compared to the suffering endured by those in other parts of the world who have infinitely worse circumstances than my own. I can, for example, type this post without fear of having a bomb dropped on my head or wondering when I will have my next meal.

I feel that it’s important to make that clear before I carry on. I even have some posts on the horizon that go into the subject of remembering what we have and how good we have it instead of constantly moaning about insignificant first-world problems. So look forward to those.

Unfortunately, it’s this very same “free” (the quotation marks are imperative to note) society that can inspire the horrible feeling of being imprisoned in your own country; your own home; your own head. It isn’t the obvious kind of suppression however and it might be all the worse for it in some ways. I’ve referenced Mark Manson’s fantastic book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, many times already on this blog and I’m certain that I have even repeated the following quoted passage before but this section of the book simply struck a real chord with me. Mark talks about visiting Russia and having to get used to the blunt honesty of the people there.

This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don’t actually like, to buy things they don’t actually want. The economic system promotes such deception.

True, there’s nobody here holding a gun to my head and saying that I must do X or else I will be shot. Similarly, I’m not exactly in a do-or-die situation. What happens here in Western countries is that we get manipulated and herded into pens like sheep. Our society is full of liars and false imagery. Even more dangerous still, the media and those in power play us off against one another, creating a highly toxic us-versus-them environment where we are too busy despising people for their political views or lifestyle preferences to unite against the real threats. We are kept sedated by mindless consumerism, placated by that new TV or showing off our wonderful lives on social media. This is how our system wants us to be because we are easier to herd in this state.

We are forcibly pushed into this system – this established order of things – by our education systems that prepare us for lives as just another cog in the machine. We are needed, after all, to keep the big machine running and the profits coming in for those in the control room.

There is a downside to “waking up” and really questioning everything arout you though. You begin to feel trapped – trapped by having to go to work at a job that has no meaning for you because you need the money to keep the bill collectors at bay. Trapped by a judgmental society that you feel the need to please by conforming to the image of a “normal” man/woman. Trapped by this awful consumerism that makes you feel left behind if you don’t have the newest shit – the same consumerism that brainwashes you to want more, more, more of the ultimately meaningless material products.

You might come to believe that you are living in the world’s largest open prison. No, you aren’t technically incarcerated but do you actually feel free?

 

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So you start to question rather than accept and it can result in some extremely horrible realisations. After all, it is said that if you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss will stare back. What I mean by all this is that you might just see the futility in it all and it will bum you out. It’s much easier to STOP questioning and carry on being “normal”. It’s more comfortable; it’s what you know.

But once you’ve started asking questions and silently challenging the credibility of the status quo, it’s difficult to ever stop asking those questions. Especially if you hate your job. I personally don’t hate my job (that would be too strong of a description) but I don’t particularly enjoy it either. Going through the motions, the daily 7am-5pm grind, the lacklustre wages that don’t get you anywhere in life…none of it is inviting. “But work isn’t supposed to be fun!” I hear you cry and you’re right. Likewise, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that I get a different job. That could be a whole topic in itself but in general, it’s being part of a huge machine and working for thankless corporations – that really don’t care about you as an individual component in their organisation – that is beginning to bug me.

The obvious solution, then, is to become self-employed; to find something that I enjoy doing and can make a living from so that I can be my own boss. That takes energy and quality time to figure out though, let alone put into action. Not easy when the job you have to keep going to in order to collect pennies drains all of your physical AND mental reserves and leaves you feeling like an empty shell that cannot be arsed once the day is done. I’m typing this post in the evening for example and I’m just barely maintaining the motivation to keep hitting those keys.

On the subject of employment and freedom, there is a quote from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello that has resonated with me ever since I first came across it.

“America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you’ve lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn’t belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don’t care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve.”

Now I’m not saying that we should become lazy bums and sponge off the state while everybody else works to pay their way. I’m not even saying that I have the answers because I don’t.

The good news – the light at the end of this dark, depressing post – is that there is hope. Life can feel like a prison but the truth of it is, we willingly entered our cells. A lot of it is in our heads and the way we perceive the world around us. True, we have been groomed to be good little members of society and to go to work and to accept the way things are but we also – unwittingly of course – allowed people to do this to us. The cell door is closed but it isn’t locked.

Happiness, peace and liberation can only be achieved by asking those questions and understanding that just because something has “always been this way”, doesn’t mean that it is right or that it is the ONLY way.

Breaking out of my cage and living life on my own terms is now one of my top goals. Accordingly, I have been reading and listening to various related things and so I will have some more posts coming up where I look at some ideas and pointers designed to help one wake up and start living a better life.

 

Soil of the Soul

A few weeks ago, I was trawling the internet and reading various blogs and website articles on the subject of personal direction. Something that has been gnawing at me for some time now is my lack of direction in life and every so often, I find myself trying to seek the answers or at least some pointers to how I can get my arse fired up and motivated to do something more fulfilling than the dreadful 9-5 (or – in my case – 7-5) grind as a servant of The System.

It was while seeking enlightenment (spoiler alert: I’m still me, for better or for worse) that I came across an analogy that did at least strike a bit of a chord with me. This analogy compared the human soul to fertile soil and reminded the reader that we could all plant seeds in our soil, nurture said seeds and watch them grow into mighty trees. The main problem for a lot of us is that the soil has been tainted and the seeds left unwatered and unfertilised thanks to invading external forces that have seen fit to turn our plot of soil into a rubbish dump.

I quite liked this analogy and thought about it some more. I saw my own patch of fertile soil enclosed within a field. Seeds labelled “Direction”, “Passion”, “Happiness” and “Purpose” were planted but I didn’t get chance to water or feed them. Y’see, the field has a gate and just as I was skipping toward my patch of sown soil – watering can in my hand – there came a loud crunching noise. It was the sound of a dump truck reversing right through the gate! The bastards! Before I could verbally assault the driver of the truck with a multitude of PG-18-rated words, he tipped the bed and unloaded his cargo of garbage all over my patch. I was too aghast to act but I caught the registration of the truck as it sped away, leaving a cloud of diesel fumes behind. It was a private plate that read “LIFE”.

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We all plant seeds in the soil of our soul. Some seeds take longer than others to germinate, break the surface and bear fruit but we do plant them subconsciously, most often as children when we aren’t even aware that we’re doing it.

Or so I have been reading anyway.

You have to take any advice or points of view that you read on the internet with a pinch of salt of course; especially when it comes to the optimum way to live your life and be happy/successful. Everybody has their own philosopy or tried-and-tested ‘secret’ that worked for them but we are all different and what works for Bob won’t necessarily work for Dave. I personally believe that it is perhaps better to listen to different ideas and solutions then draw your own conclusions based on everything you have read.

However, one recurring self-help tactic that is supposed to help the individual work out what they want to do with their life, is to go back to the past and reconnect with your inner child. You know, that previous version of you that enjoyed doing certain things or making use of talents/skills without realising that they might take you somewhere. Before the fly-tipping began and you turned an unwitting blind eye to the dumping of truckloads of garbage on your precious – now poisoned – patch of soil.

Before the superficiality, materialism and greed of society poisoned our minds.

Before you graduated childhood and were inducted properly into The System, encouraged to accept a status quo and pour all of your energy into unfulfilling jobs in order to service unavoidable debt and keep a roof above your head.

Before you were trapped in that 9-5 cycle with those wonderful dreams shelved as you play the part of just another cog in the machine – a machine that works for the rich and powerful and runs on the blood of the working class.

Shit got a bit dark and gloomy there but it really is how our human society functions. Breaking out of this cage and finding a way to live happily – without being sucked dry by others who don’t have your interests at heart – is the ultimate quest in my mind. It’s not an easy quest by any means and there are a lot of boxes to be checked as you are pushing forwards but is there a more rewarding journey to embark upon?

I’ve been trying to reconnect with my inner child and cast my mind back to past. What I remembered was that I was crazy about drawing, writing and being creative in general. I would spend hours doing this sort of thing, improving my skills and simply enjoying what I was doing without feeling the pressure to turn it into a career or money. Somewhere along the way, I ran out of steam and stopped. Society, people and working a physically-demanding job left me tired and more likely to turn to mindless entertainment in my spare time rather than enjoying the arts and continuing to improve my crafts.

One of the last things I drew was this picture of the character, Blaze Fielding, from the videogame, Streets of Rage 2. That was in 2015 (according to the date on the back). I’m not proclaiming myself to be a good artist or anything like that but comparing this picture to what I was doing a few years prior shows dramatic improvement. It’s also a stark reminder of where I could be at today had I kept at it. As it is, the cubby-hole in my desk is a stack of outdated portfolios and half-finished pictures living in plastic wallets, awaiting completion.

I’m not going to blame society or other people for my lack of work. After all, it was me who allowed this to happen and it was me who chose to numb my tired brain with the likes of videogames and Youtube and lock my creativity away in a cupboard. That said, external influences and the necessities that come with living in the way that society expects you to live have had a part to play. Of course, it is my responsibility to push back and not allow external factors to affect me.

It is my responsibility to fit a stronger lock to the gate that the dump truck forced open before tipping its load all over my patch of soil (no dirty innuendos intended…). Heck, I should be investing in 24/7 security and watchtowers.

But what is done is done and now the clean-up must begin. It’s past time that I hired a skip and put in the work to clear out all of the dumped rubbish that hides that soil and the seeds that are buried deep, awaiting their oppurtunity to sprout.

And with that, I will spare you any more long-winded analogies.

Red or Blue pill?

Don’t worry; you haven’t stumbled across the diary of a drug addict. This is simply me being incredibly original uninspired and treading a well-beaten path, about to get my analogy on and talk about pills that are far more powerful than any Class A drug.

I’m fairly confident that most of you have watched 1999’s The Matrix but if you are perhaps too young to have been there at the time, first of all, stop making me feel old damn it. Second of all, you should go and watch it. Actually…don’t. In period, The Matrix blew our minds with cutting-edge CGI and the infamous “bullet time” effect, the latter of which was subsequently imitated just as much as electronic products are imitated by dodgy Chinese copycats. I haven’t watched The Matrix for some years now but I have a sneaking suspicion that it hasn’t aged particularly well; less so in the eyes of anybody viewing the movie for the first time in 2019. And the less said about the sequels, the better.

There’s a funny thing about The Matrix though. When we were younger, we came away from the movie wowed by the fights, bullets hanging in mid-air and – if you were a boy – Carrie-Anne Moss in leather. Today however, I take something else away from The Matrix – something more resonant with REAL life. I am of course talking about Neo being asked by Morpheus to choose between the red and blue pills. Back in ’99, Neo’s decision was simply part of a sci-fi plot in a futuristic bit of popcorn fodder. The deepest thinking that I can recall doing in relation to The Matrix‘s plot is wondering whether WE were also living in a Matrix created by Terminator-like machines or even aliens. How even that level of theorising managed to take place in a teenage imagination otherwise filled with videogames and women’s breasts is a wonder in itself.

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But now I’m far more interested in the symbolism behind the red and blue pills, and Neo’s choice. In The Matrix, taking the blue pill will allow Neo to remain in the false world of the Matrix, living a comfortable, ‘normal’ life of acceptance and ignorance. Opting for the red pill on the other hand is to choose to wake up and enter the real world. This ‘real’ world is a world of war and hardship where the last humans are fighting for their freedom against the machines and computers that all but destroyed mankind. The machines’ human victims are kept in stasis, their electrical energy harvested while they “live” in the Matrix. They live in a dream, unaware of the truth.

Away from the big screen and back to reality, I believe that we all have a choice between a red and a blue pill. We are choosing which pill to swallow every single morning when we wake up. We choose which pill to take whenever we make a decision. We choose every time we interact with life and the world around us.

Anybody who plays around with the red/blue pill analogy probably has their own definitions of what it means to choose between the two but for clarification, these are MY definitions and just my personal opinion on the idea:

The Blue Pill – To live a life governed by materialism and following the crowd. To not question authority. To keep oneself “drugged” on entertainment, material items and celebrity rather than seeking to improve oneself and push back against the system.

The Red Pill – To reject materialism and blind consumerism. To not be easily influenced by the views and lifestyles of others. To question the oppressive nature of the system here in the “democratic” and “free” Western world and to push back when necessary. To be yourself and not try to fit into a mould of another’s creation.

If you happen to be a hardcore revolutionary and are expecting me to suddenly morph into an anti-authoritarian guerilla fighter then I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you though. Perhaps you think I’m taking the pussy-boy halfway house approach to knocking back a red pill but I cannot escape the fact that I am a child of “the system” and as such, waking up fully isn’t an instantaneous process. We have been moulded and shaped into what we are by parents who might not have been aware that it had happened to them and as such, we cannot lay the blame at their feet.

Education and governments are to blame. Corporations, greed and capitalism too.

So yes, while I have been shunning materialism more and more as of late, I’m still materialistic to a degree and I highly doubt I will ever not own anything of material value. Likewise, I am still living in the system and working a crappy job; still living by the rules of a society that I often disagree with on a daily basis.

But asking questions and taking a look outside of the box is the first step to – hopefully – a better life as I see it. I have plans for further posts linked in to this subject coming up very soon where I look at the likes of education, The System and reassessing life and our surroundings.