Sunday, June 09, 2013

Transcendence: Rise Above and Reenter

In a previous post we looked at the problem of insufferable boredom.  To some degree we have boredom to thank for some of the greatest discoveries, notions, concepts, art, music and scientific breakthroughs. There are two kinds of people in the world, those who plod along with what the world offers and those who transcend (however briefly) the humdrum world to a place outside the daily grind to discover something more. It is one of the key attributes that separates us from the lower animals. A dog never strives to more than a dog, he needs no greater understanding of his world or his place in it.

It may be that boredom is the key to human progress (if one calls where we are today progress, I'll leave that to greater minds than mine). All I know is that I have been afflicted by the need to transcend the everyday nothingness to either better understand or contribute. Not all people who act and feel this way are extraordinary  - I use myself as a case in point - but all extraordinary people are seekers of some such transcendence.

I have been, since I can remember, striving to create something or to have a greater understanding of the world metaphysically, spiritually or what have you. Basically they're the age old questions of why am I here, why is there something rather than nothing and who am "I". Some people don't even entertain these questions and just move about their world day to day. Either they understand that these questions cannot be answered and see no value or they just never go there intellectually. They just let the experts figure it out. Some are seekers some are not.

In Walker Percy's book Lost in the Cosmos he digs deep into the mechanisms of transcendence and reentry, concluding in part that the bigger you are the harder you fall - or - what goes up must come down. The problem of reentry into the everyday everyday is a matter of how softly one lands. Celebrities, sport stars and artists often land the hardest. This is simply because when they rise into the stratosphere the fickle what-have-you-done-for-me-lately public loses interest so quickly they crash to Earth with a resounding thud. There are countless tragic stories of just such crash landings.

There are others, like business titans and scientists who rise to the top of their fields with one defining deal or that one remarkable breakthrough. They can also struggle to exist in the ordinary world. They too implode (or explode). Few, like Bill Gates or Albert Einstein, can stay above it all and continue to live in a transcendent state. There are those, say like pop star Michael Jackson, that transcend and reenter, transcend and reenter over and over. It is well chronicled that he became increasingly weird each time, ending in his tragic overdose death not long after going through a bizarre episode of being accused of child molestation.

Even minor celebrities having tasted the sweet nectar of transcendence refuse reentry. Some successfully re-invent themselves - singers become actors, journalists become novelists and sports stars become broadcasters - and others like José Canseco a one-time baseball star resort to antics that keep them in the public eye but often diminish what they have accomplished and render their reputation into shambles.

That old phrase "be careful what you wish for" can be prescient. Looking back I resent the fact that I haven't lived the large life. I always thought I would, having the ambition I had as young man before the world whipped me back into reality. I often wonder if people of talent and ambition are unconsciously afraid of what success might do to them and the ones they love. I have wondered this about myself. In my own way, having some talent, or so I've been told, (see here and here and here) feeling the need to transcend the humdrum world I have never given it my all. I beat myself up about it all the time. Part of me tells me I'm not near good enough at any of these things, but another part is afraid of success - because then expectations are set. I also am a day dreamer, thinking things and never acting upon them. There is also the phenomenon of the talent as the promoter. I guess I never believed in my talents enough to seek out a promoter, and I'm a lousy self promoter. Why? Because I'm afraid of success? Or am I afraid of reentry? Probably both.

But I could be wrong.