A leftist party in Oslo, March 2022
It is hard to figure out when something is a threat to you or your ego. It takes time and skill to perceive the world accurately. In the modern world, the threats are slower, more insidious. They take time to metastasize.
Think of someone who seems effortlessly attractive and easy going. Time seems to flow well with them and they are a joy to be around. The days, weeks and months pass and it appears that they don’t follow up on what they were meant to do. They start to fade and the back and forth runs dry. You’re left doing the work, carrying the bag. You kick yourself for carrying this relationship for years.
You can’t break up with them because a) how could you? There’s so much of you there. So much time spent and care sunk into the hole. That’s what it feels like sometimes, a hole in which is never filled. You’ve given yourself to this project and it seems to get worse the more you put into it. You have to kill your ego to save yourself.
Think of someone who seems effortlessly attractive and easy going. Time seems to flow well with them and they are a joy to be around. The days, weeks and months pass and they seem to just get stronger and more diligent about maintaining and building the relationship. They show up and they care. You feel light and unburdened but also energized to give back. You are grateful for this relationship and hope it lasts years.
I think it is in the deepest of peaces that some of the worst demons can come out. There is enough space and capacity for the psyche to bring out the biggest boss battles. It’s kind of like how your body gets sick after a long working month or months and just when holidays are around the corner it takes the chance to give up. The body keeps the score, or rather, the body keeps track of the calendar.
I have been in this kind of peacetime before and it is scary. It’s almost like it’s too good to be true. You are in the hull of the ship and you start banging against the walls and doors. You’re going on an expedition and you need to know if this thing can sail. It can go a bit out of control at times and I think that one has to come up with strategies to handle oneself in these moments. It’s all a learning process.
Naturally, the ego wants to protect itself. It’s kicking and screaming and pointing out dangers. I’m reading this book now called The Middle Passage by James Hollis. It talks about midlife crises. I think midlife crises are male coded in the sense that men often have the economic agency and social license to act out their crises. Men leaving their families or to a lesser extent, buying motorcycles. It is a reclaiming of themselves. Of a neglected kid coming to the fore. We had to Do Adult Stuff until now and sometimes that’s too much.
Women experience midlife crises too but I think they are too constrained by society and actually culturally expected to be considerate that they don’t go awol like men do. I’ve seen mothers give up. Their kids have come home after not getting jobs and staring down the tunnel of eternal caregiving, they lash out and scream. I understand it to the degree I can.
Part of the book is about the creation of the ego and how it is used to perceive the world around us and protect us from danger. I need to relisten to it again and take proper notes but he talks about the arbitrariness of culture and society. Hollis grew up in post-war America and back then he said the town pointed out a divorced person as if they were a murderer. How real those thoughts and feelings must have been but at the same time, so arbitrary.
I often joke that if I was born during the Inca Empire, I would probably think that human sacrifices would be a great thing. I think of W and how he said that when he came to the U.S. from Pakistan he honestly believed that gay people should be killed. That was what it was back home and he never really had any reason to question it until he was exposed to a new environment.
I totally understand why people marry within their cultural spheres and social classes. If the ego is built from the environment, staying within the environment causes minimal shaking of the ego. Your ego is never challenged because all your assumptions are reflected back at you. People act as you predict and they have probably acted in a similar way as you have. It’s all grokkable. It’s all bueno. But is it exciting? I don’t think so.
I think excitement goes hand in hand with danger. This is more than me, this is threatening, this could destroy me. I don’t know the science but I’m sure there’s an overlap somewhere in the brain between thrill seeking and arousal. There has to be risk, there has to be something unknown. The goal here is to choose the right kind of danger. Danger to the body is oftentimes irreversible. A says: “Don’t give yourself bad memories on purpose”. W says: “Be careful of the memories you accumulate because there reaches a tipping point where all you have are memories”. I can’t stop thinking about that.
Be dangerous to your ego. It’s scary, but it’s worth it. Don’t be scared to take the risk but be wise to know which is which. You can only grow through casting off of the shell. Honor the shell, the ego for it took care of you but remember that it was created in a different time and different place. I think that’s the key, to be attuned to excitement and to growth. I want to constantly be challenged and destabilized and shaken loose of things I used to believe yet supported in my core values.