A comment I received on my post Echoes, or How to Cultivate A Free Mind has been on my mind a bit lately. The reader said what I was really talking about is leading an authentic life. I suppose I was. I think. Maybe. I guess it really just depends on how far you want to take it.
Meaning, suppose you cut out all the foreign input of daily life, the negativity: the news ("They're ruining America!"), advertising ("you're ugly/stupid/uncool... unless you buy this!"), even religion ("repent ye sinners, lest ye burn in everlasting hell!")... suppose you go and do all that stuff I mentioned, gardening or running or writing or painting... well, where does that leave you? You're still going to have to be part of the culture. You have to go to work or school, you're going to have friends, family, neighbors. All of which is going to have you submersed in the Culture, infecting you with its memes.
So then; I think I what I was trying to say in that earlier post was how distressing it is: I have all these ideas in my head but most of them come from far away. They seem so close (I mean, they're right there in my head!), but they aren't mine. I find myself questioning everything-- why do I sympathize with the Left; why do I prefer science to religion; why does this or that irritate me so much while it doesn't irritate him, or vice-versa; why do I like the music and art and books that I do? If I choose writing over running or painting, well, why did I choose that? They say kids are like sponges, absorbing whatever is poured into them. Most of who I consider myself to be, my personality, my beliefs, my likes and dislikes, and my very modes and methods of thinking, were instilled in me by others (or at best, by interaction with others); parents, teachers, friends. They meant well, but in a way, I feel robbed of my very mind-- those patterns are hard to break, or even see.
Take language itself. The English language dictates what I may and what I may not think about, and how I may go about it. The grammar and syntax determines a lot: nouns and verbs, for example. Noun are, and they do verbs. But does it make sense to say the lightning flashes? Isn't there just the flashing? Do nouns really exist? Even if I think they don't, that all is transitory, mere patterns of constantly shifting energy, the language forces me to deny that belief every time I open my mouth. Or try the fact that, if there isn't a word for something, how can you even think about it?
Yet of course every child is going to have an upbringing, is going to speak a language, is going to be educated. Is "escape" impossible? What does it mean to live an authentic life? Everything is in confluence, it's all running together. How do I separate what I'm doing authentically from what I'm doing to ape others, consciously or not? How can one be authentic?
I think what I was saying before was that going out to Nature is helpful in seeing that most of what runs through our minds in that constant internal monologue are merely echoes of what we've heard, especially the more recent things. A reader once commented that worship is whatever we give our attention to, what we focus on. If we have all these endless thoughts, repeating, repeating, it matters what those thoughts are, as they are going to shape our entire lives. So going to the woods is helpful, because there, the input is vastly reduced, simplified, clarified. There's no media, far fewer people, or none at all... less culture. It's an inhuman world out there. It doesn't exist for us, doesn't care in particular about us, wasn't built by or for us; therefore, we are not surrounded by endless layers of humanity. No part of nature is trying to sell you on anything, none of it represents anything; it is simply what it is. Symbols don't exist out there.
So, given the lack of symbols, sales pitches, and content, the mind naturally calms. We entrain with our environment, gearing down to a smoother mode of being. Something more natural. And I think that's what I'm after. Culture isn't all bad. It's just our dominant culture is. Everything is trying to sell you on something, evangelism in news and entertainment as well as in religion. I've seen better, and not in some distant, obscure tribe, but with fellow Americans. I call it Trail Culture.