A thought on feeling helpless

I try to avoid personal posts, but I had a thought I’d like to share with you all.

The thought is that: that feeling of helplessness we sometimes get – that feeling of not knowing what this is or what to do or what the plan is – is inextricably linked with being human. Now I can’t vouch for everyone in thinking that you have ever felt this way. All I know is that I personally have moments where I basically despair at the thought of ‘what the fuck is going on here’. Take this emotion, coupled with an insight from Joseph Campbell – “you enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or a path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path” – and the following idea really hammered into me: as the human being you are, you are authentic. There has never been another identically like you and there never will be. And so to some extent, no matter what you do, you can’t avoid having to bush-bash.  That is to say, you can’t avoid having to create this own path of yours. And so naturally there will be points in life when you’re staring at these vines thinking: ‘what am I to do here?’ And you’re looking around to see what others are doing – ‘how’d they go about chopping their vines?’ And you can get some tips perhaps, but the key thing is: your vines are different; and your sword is different; and the unknown path behind the vines is different. And it can’t not be this way, because this is your path. This is your authentic path for the one-and-only you. And it’s right there!

So to be human is to be authentic, and to be authentic is unavoidably linked with feeling helpless at times; or alternatively, nervous or anxious about a state of affairs that confronts you. We naturally hesitate because we are animals. We’ve come to know that fire is hot and a bee sting hurts, and so we want to test the waters before jumping in – before just chopping-away blindly.

And so, this thought-experiment made me realise that there are (what we might think of as) unavoidable downs in life. They don’t always come about this way, but the point is, they’re there[1]. And by implication of course, there are unavoidable ups too! You can’t have one without the other, just like you can’t have an inside without an outside.

Rolling with this idea of unavoidable downs, see the following:

I don’t know if everyone will be able to relate to the second half of the clip, but I think anyone can find the first half very inspirational. The main conclusion he reaches is that: the game is worth the candle. That is: this phenomenon of living which we engage in, generation after generation, it has to be worth it, right? Otherwise, wouldn’t we cease to exist? I have to admit the first time I watched this clip this idea didn’t really resonate with me. But wow, these days it just seems to make the most incredible sense. It just seems so fundamental – this game has to be worth it. And what makes something worth it? It’s good and fun and happy and enjoyable and makes you love living and want to be here!

So here we are. There are unavoidable ups and downs, and the game is also worth it. This made me realise that, though the downs are a part of it, it’s all meant to be fun. Because underneath it all, it has to be; underneath it all, this thing of living is worth it. There you go!

In line with the above discussion, I thought I’d close by sharing with you a handful of ideas/quotes. I believe it was Albert Einstein who spoke of the value of a handful of quotes. So here are some I’ve decided I’d like to keep with me:

“Being who you are is the privilege of a lifetime.”
– Joseph Campbell.

“Feeling helpless at times is inextricably linked with being human, because you’re authentic. The path you walk is fundamentally unknown.”

“It is always better to hope than to despair.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

… and most importantly, given the ups go with the downs and that the game is worth the candle…

“it’s all meant to be fun.”

[1] I think a bit of a secret is to go with the downs – to let them play out – to embrace the unknown. Because, after all: variety is the spice of life. Alan Watts talks of “going with it” in the same way as you should swim with the current, as swimming against it might lead you to drown. Joseph Campbell said “when you are falling, dive”. And C. Joybell C. spoke about how the “miracle is in the unfolding of the wings” (see the On Hope post).


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