The Raw Truth
The raw truth.
Strip away the distractions of this world and you are left alone in the desert of truth. Listen to what you hear.
I had journeyed out to the center of a dry lake bed in the Nevada desert to find myself. It was contrived and clichéd as it was a real adventure. My friend and I were going off to the silence of the sands to do a substantial hit of LSD and “see what happened.” I had recently read a copy of “The Harvard Psychedelic Club” and so my mind was primed for an enlightening experience. I was going to find my spirit animal, talk to the sky, discover the soul of the world, and all that jazz.
My friend and I parted ways to find our own seats of solitude. And as the night unfolded I began to shed the garments of reality until I was left with hardly anything at all.
I had taken extensive notes the following day and have many experiences to relate but important to this discussion is the general feeling of removal. The colors of the sky faded into silvery liquid. The whole of the universe was contained in the that lake bed valley. To a degree it felt as if I was on a small personal planet for one. Here was my sky, all around the mountains, below a scrap of earth, above the starts. Sounds and sights blended into a serene bubble and I was truly alone.
Yet in another sense I was not alone, I would chat with myself. It was the mind communicating with the body. Alone in my thoughts. There was not a single distraction, and while my mind was in a rather altered state, I for a time could think deeply. It was like Yoda said: The desert contained “only what you take with you.” I meditated on all of the standard, large questions. And I found that having removed any and all distractions, the thoughts I did have would spring full formed into my consciousness. I had to give them some credit, their source was within, it was my truth.
In the days that followed I did gradually return to this planet, but still believed that it was a powerful and intense experience. What reminds me of it now is that I am finding a similar, utter, lack of distractions while getting used to my new life in Buenos Aires. This is not a completely new feeling, consider how some of my circumstances have developed over the last year:
- The majority of my friends moved to other cities.
- I quit my desk job.
- I’ve completed consulting work that has given me some measure of independence.
- I’m in a great, stable relationship with a girl that accepts me for who I am.
- I now live in Argentina, devoid of Amazon.com, the English language, and where I have no history.
Add to that my nonexistent consumption of mainstream media and I find my self in a situation much like that of the desert south of Las Vegas: alone with my thoughts.
I am not distracted by a daily grind, working for other people’s enrichment. I don’t have to convince myself my current lot is what I was “meant to do” because it happens to be what I am doing. I’m not called on by friends for enjoyment or support. It’s harder to buy distractions here, I can’t overnight something that seems like a good idea. I don’t go out hounding for girls, changing anything about myself to appeal to the short term goals of dating. I wouldn’t be able to understand the television here if I did watch it. I have some money to live off of for the time begin, and things are inexpensive here so I barely work.
That’s not to say I don’t do much. I guess I find my own distractions. I’ve busied myself with some projects of my own design, attempted to increase my knowledge of Spanish, and of course taken to writing. But it remains that I have very little input and so I find myself giving more weight to those thoughts that occur naturally to me.
Chiefly I am paying close attention to those thoughts that excite me. This is the raw truth that I am happy to find and explore. I’m sitting here while a 3D printer makes parts for a robot that will water herbs. I am writing about the attempt to make sense of my experience of the world. These among other things are exciting to me. I think about them when little else is happening. My excitement to build out of metal or wood is not due to the influence of society, friends, relationships, or my employers. The excitement is intrinsic.
It’s to these thoughts that I think we should pay the most heed. These are the thoughts that direct us. I envy those that are tuned in to these thoughts from an early age or simply to a greater degree. However, with these thoughts comes a great deal of fear. Exposed to the truth, we can only deny it or accept it. You can not, however, un-hear the truth. It will always be there, glowing like a beacon, or festering like a splinter.
The fear of course, is that of failure, and not simple failure, but failure at that which gives you joy. Failing not in the eyes of others, but personal failure. Failing to achieve an object or a goal or a project that is deeply connected with your being.
I failed the CFA level 2 exam and shortly thereafter never looked back to finance. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, I was hardly ever passionate or excited about the subject. Looking back it was clear the whole departure into business was influenced by forces outside myself. The failure was irrelevant. It only helped me to discover deeper passions and excitements. But the deeper you go, the closer to home those failures will hit. It is easier to take the route, as many people do, of inaction. “If you don’t try, you can’t fail.” Better to sit on the sidelines and convince yourself that the activity you are doing is the one that excites you.
I think not. It is a very difficult challenge to discover this raw truth, those things that excite you. It’s a moving target, always evolving and changing its image. It is an even harder challenge to find and pursue a path and a set of objectives that will deliver those exciting things. Harder still, though, would be a life filled with regrets and “wish I hads.” Pay attention to your thoughts, find your raw truth, and then take up the challenge.
These are the things that excite me at this moment in my life:
- Working with my hands on motorcycles.
- Creating and inventing things that combine technology and everyday life.
- Imagining and designing small buildings or dwellings.
- Crafting software that solves a problem.
Late for a Plane
I was rushing to the airport. It was one of those rushes where you knew you should have gotten up a little earlier, but not by much, where you thought with reasonable circumstances you would arrive to the gate as the plane was boarding, perhaps just as the plump first class and priority passengers waddled down the causeway.
So perhaps it was not a real “rush,” but any chance for a relaxed ride to the airport was cast aside, hoping the cab would move just a little faster, and hoping that the kiosk would be free and the security line would be thin. Hoping beyond hope that you picked a line full of Asian or German business men, sliding their Sony laptops out of Hugo Boss attaches in a single motion while twirling their Armani blazers around a pair of laceless loafers and gliding through security on a thin cloud of elegance, experience, and cash.
And yet, for the first of the unravalings of the day, the line chosen was less than ideal, but far from worse. Glancing about, I did notice the line I had wished for, the light from a high skylight tinging their experience with the glint of the heavens, stars bursting from Gucci shades, washing the calm river of business dress in light. I had also noticed the hellish line in the other direction, behemoths of girth returning from a midwestern vacation. Unkempt children slowing the process, bags of trinkets clogging the scan boxes, and a litany of accessories to be pealed off and stacked. Their mood was a mixture of disbelief in the degree to which they had to disrobe as though they had forgotten their earlier flight, and understanding that, “yes, this was necessary to keep the terrorists at bay.”
Somewhere farther back in this procession, two lines must have been zippered together, adding a disaffected debutant to this mix, requiring the mother to call past her, and back to her children, in order to keep them in line. She could care less, buried in her expensively covered iPhone, tapping a way at texts while the line inched forward. Nor did it concern her how much time she took to unbuckle her high heals, free her arms from its many manacles, and shed the many other superfluous and metal things from her body. The trappings of her conspicuously consumed outfit seemed to lose all their enchantment when trapped between the aforementioned family, oozing its way though the economy class security line. About this irony she was clearly unaware.
My line, as with many of the events thus far, was just slow enough to be annoying. I could hardly fault the elderly couple in front of me. Their shock and dismay at the indignities forced upon them, moving at their own pace, gave me pause to consider that slowing down might make this whole adventure more relaxed. However I had a plane to catch, and I wished this old man would move a little faster, though I agreed with his general demeanor. His body language announcing to the world that if he had to remove his belt, he would put in back on with the same care applied that morning. His visage harkening to some old flight of his younger days, before such hoops were placed in his way, when he could whistle to the stewardess for a scotch and slide a dollar into the pocket of her polyester skirt.
After the first of many eternities, the security station vomited me out into the inner sanctum of the airport. It was safe here, and I could be confident that no terrorist would bother me while I browsed expensive perfume and watches at the duty free shops. But such browsing I would not enjoy, quickly walking past the shops and overpriced food to be transferred to the gate.
Only after turning the corner onto the newly constructed promenade did see the beginings of my next obstacle…
On Daily Writing and Education
So far so good on the “daily writing habit.” I’m rather impressed with myself having started using Lift to encourage a set of daily habits. One of the goals is to write for at least 30 minutes daily. Some times I have a topic, or something specific to a blog entry or project. Sometimes, like today, I don’t have much. So I turn on some alpha wave binaural beats, set a timer, and fire up Byword.
I decided this morning that to keep my self more or less accountable, and at the very least gain some feedback, I’ll post most of the writing to this tumblr feed. If I know it will becomes something larger, I’ll save it.
The Topic at Hand
Today I’d like to discuss the state of education in the United States. This is for two reasons. Firstly I recently saw an informative documentary entitled “Race to Nowhere” specifically on high pressure and homework. Secondly, my daily morning routine largely consists of reading, studying Spanish, and then writing. (Which kinda sounds like school?)
I think it’s safe to say that the system is rather broken, in fact, that has been said for some time, with little done in the way of sweeping, transformative change. I can only offer my own experience and opinions on the subject. I don’t think it rather too unique but there are a few noteworthy events that have shaped my view of “education.”
- I attended a highly engaged, private Quaker school for middle and high school. Exploration and free thinking was encouraged, but it was still very much a college prep school. The motto was “let your life speak,” although, I think many parents took it to mean, “let your life speak by attending a prestigious, 4 year, eastern university.”
- I went to RIT to study mechanical engineering, but switched to finance after 3 years. I was hired by my internship, but quickly learned programming (something I had always fooled around with) to make my job easier.
- I worked as a “software engineer” for an educational software company, having had zero formal training, or any degree that would indicate I was qualified to write software used by millions of people. In retrospect, I feel that my college experience was somewhat superfluous, as the majority of my current skills were acquired “on the job.”
- The culture of the industry, really, more over that of the company at which I worked, was very college driven. It was seen as a given that college was the next step. It was almost heresy to suggest that people might have a successful life outside of the path: school Pre–20, job, promotion, house, family, and so on.
And so I’ll summarize:
I went to college, scored highly, got a degree. Did I need to? No.
The metaphor that comes to mind is like going through a long and arduous hedge maze, only to find at the exit, a hole in the bushes that might allow you to skip from the entrance to the end.
Learning is one of my favorite things, and education is great. The more the better. But I don’t believe in the slightest that it is something that must be administered. Rather it is a life long process, where access to specific tools are helpful. These tools can include institutions, or classes, but not as the only implements.
I’ll end with some of my criticisms of the education system and culture. And perhaps in future musings will consider possible improvements or solutions.
- We live in a culture of do these things, and you will be successful. The idea of success is an amorphous blob, an intangible goal, apparently satisfied by the eventual culmination of an early life of standardized education. Going through the motions of primary school to attend a college, to obtain a generic degree, should allow you to obtain a rather generic office job, and afford a rather generic house or apartment, go out, buy some stuff, and have a pretty happy life. Those that do not follow this path are ever so slightly stigmatized as lacking ambition, or giving up on their potential. Never mind the plumber that brings in over 100k a year from selling AC upgrades.
- The pressure to conform trumps the desires of an individual. Consider that most CEOs or company founders did not start with an MBA. Nor did most any of the variety of successful people watched by millions, who do things “out side of an office.” The girl who struggles through math, but loves to paint, is culturally coerced into continuing the struggle, seeking a “degree” in fine arts as a generally approved way to pursue the passion.
- We focus on things that are easy to measure. A quick search of the internet will reveal myriad articles on the emphasis placed on testing and numbers. And clearly this is to the detriment of creative learning, and in fact learning itself. I maintain that tests show that you can pass the test, and certifications show you can get a certification. I’d wager that anyone’s favorite class from childhood would be most closely connected with the fundamental real application of knowledge, be it the teacher that took their students to speak french at various restaurants and bakeries. Or the science teacher that blew things up. By focusing on test prep, we are stripping the joy and exploration out of the learning process.
- Education is seen as separate from living. We “go to school.” I’m sorry, but I’m still “in school,” I’m in school right now, a creative writing class, and will be graded by the whole of the internet. By partioning off education as something that happens at a specific place, during a specific time, we are downplaying the role of learning in everyday, non-school, events. Worse still, those who experience a bad time at school, are likely to turn off to learning whenever it arrises.
I’d offer that “finding what excites you” as guide to help people of all ages navigate through their education and larger life. Following the path of excitement, honestly, and with compassionate support, may lead to, or be aided by, even the existing education system. However, also consider alternatives that may help you take shortcuts through the maze.