I’ve come to realize that most all of us are um, neurological diverse, or even as others would say mental ill. “Speak for yourself!” you may say. But who hasn’t turned down that speaking gig due to anxiety? Or turned back on an overly risky camping adventure or job offer? Or stayed up all night studying to the point of exhaustion? Or kept trying the same thing over and over despite it not working the first 10 times you tried it.
And yet it turns out that hypertrophied mental states can be productive. For some our nervousness tears at us, makes us unable to relax, we’re constantly fidgeting with our world, pruning and adjusting everything just so. For some fear makes us overachievers : “wow he dresses well”, “such nice teeth!”, “what an amazing project!”. “Wow they read a lot!”. Nervousness, anxiety, fear are just a few of our demons. There’s all kinds of strange neurologically diverse triggers we all seem to have. The need to have quiet, to control space, to control the world. For an introvert making a lot of money lets them sooth their brains. Some of us are so atypical that it’s hard for others to even pinpoint what makes us so weird!
But if you take a step back and think about it — it makes sense. I can see how hard it can be. I can see why many of us are such overachievers.
It’s almost as if we live in a world where each day brings us that much closer to death. As if we’re snowboarding down a mountain, unable to stop, barely able to slow down, having to constantly avoid chasms, cliffs and obstacles. Being pursued by bad memories, by a sense that each situation we encounter is similar to horrible situations we encountered in the past. That time is pushing you forward again and again into the same bad feelings. Almost as if we’re in a world where anything could happen, where we could get run over by a car tomorrow, or god forbid run a small child over. Where we or our loved ones suddenly get cancer and all our plans are thrown awry. Where friends suddenly kill themselves or that goodbye ends up being last goodbye. Where we could be fired from our jobs, and be only a paycheck from being kicked out of our apartments and living on the streets like all the ragged homeless we see around us begging for change. One forest fire, earthquake or ICE arrest from losing our homes and livelihoods. It’s almost as if our fear and anxiety is a reflection of the risks of the real world. That there’s no safety net, no friends, no community to protect us; nothing with teeth on our side to stop the monsters. And not even a personal fear but an existential fear, that not only might one die or ones kids but ones entire way of life, entire communities burnt down by stroke of a bureaucrats pen or shoulder movement of nature.
Of course there are many ways to be mindful about being a mote in gods eye. In a brief trip to Madras, India years ago I couldn’t help but notice a definite fatalism about life; what happened happened, it was outside of ones control. Driving past a collision between a bus and a truck; people wrapped in bloody t-shirts simply saying that this was the way it was — not even moving the injured quickly to hospitals. It was a cultural phenomena. And there are buddhist ideals to control the hamster-wheeling that some minds can get up to. I’ve even heard of friends who catch themselves thinking negative thoughts and try to stop negative ideation spirals.
The opposite is perilous as well; to just float through the flow of life, to see life somewhat more kaleidoscopically; as simply beautiful, staying present, without being afraid. This too has a certain beautiful lotus eating peril. Or even to take a systems perspective, to recognize personal unimportance, and to look for bigger fish to fry — even that is a way of having a safe distance.
Is there a way to have both; to feel the world, to get outside of ones own safety bubble; to be at the edge of the real, where outcomes are unpredictable and to not be afraid? To not worry over consequence or success but to worry more about having a life that is unique? And to still successfully navigate? To know that death comes for us all, that life is highly unpredictable, and yet to be able to take pleasure in both big projects, hard work and small moments of beauty?