The enduring, amorphous, inescapable question.
Thank you for this post, again. I like the way you think, and I really enjoy reading what you have to say about things.
I have so many thoughts (and ironically, not much time to share them at this moment) but you've got me thinking hard. Especially the stuff you said about feeling serene, and being able to be present in the now, and focus on the tasks at hand without getting overwhelmed or distracted by other things.
And this is going to be rather tangential, but I promise the rest of this is related, even if it doesn't seem so at first! And also this is a "this is my story and my way of relating to what you've said" and not something that I'm applying to anyone else! Just to be clear. :)
So... I got diagnosed with both autism and ADHD at age 41, which completely turned my worldview upside-down but ultimately in a very helpful way. (much of which is outside the scope of my main point, though.)
(and my thoughts on what autism and ADHD really are and how they are (mis)handled in general by mainstream society are also beyond the scope of this, but I could write essays about that too.)
But part of being diagnosed was getting medication to help with the ADHD, and that medication is what I'm thinking about right now.
See, the current go-to treatment for ADHD where I live is stimulants, a type of drug that "normal" people apparently take as a party drug because they get high from it (or so I'm told) and so it's very hard to actually get it prescribed.
(And this is actually a big part of the problem of normal people's (mis)understanding of how ADHD is treated with these meds, because they assume everyone responds the same.)
But I will never forget how I felt the first time I took my first "stimulant" to try and treat ADHD. It was like I'd been standing in a busy pub, being forced to listen to 20 conversations simultaneously with pounding music and a droning TV in the background... and then I was suddenly transported to a quiet art gallery, all alone, where everything was hushed, still, and serene.
I remember just sitting there, for 20 minutes or so, reveling in the absolute stillness and calmness, which was something that I had never experienced in my life, that I had never even known was *possible*. It felt so damn incredible to not be overwhelmed by dozens of thoughts racing a mile a minute, to not be drowning in my brain screaming at me to do fifty things at once. To just be present in the moment.
My partner, who was also finally diagnosed with ADHD around the same time, happened to wander in around then, and she asked me what I was doing. I said "enjoying the silence" and she looked at me as if I was crazy. Because she has the exact same chaos in her head, and it wasn't until she also tried the supposed "stimulants" that the chaos calmed down even a little.
That was several years ago, and I continue to take this medication daily, because it calms the chaos in my head. It's not perfect, especially with all my other disabilities, but it makes a huge difference to my every day.
I am still the same person on the meds; I still get fascinated by the same weird things, I still go off on random hyper-focus journeys or needs to suddenly learn every single detail about some random fact that crossed my path, I still see patterns others don't and connect randoms dots from things I've learned to find wonderful revelations most people never even notice.
But the meds calm the chaos and they give me a chance to direct my focus. They make it far more possible for me to actually DO the thing I wanted to do next, rather than wandering off and doing twenty other random things I happened to notice.
Hell, I kept getting distracted by external things while writing this and still came back and finished it, and I can guarantee you (from much experience) I would not have managed that without the meds. XD
And just to be crystal clear again, I'm NOT writing this out of some desire to tell everyone to get diagnosed with ADHD and take meds. It was one possible answer for me; that doesn't magically make it the answer for anyone else.
I'm writing his because some of what you said about your mushroom trip really resonated with me, about your serenity, and being able to be present in the moment.
And honestly, it absolutely fascinates the bejeezus out of me that drugs that stimulate and excite "normal" people can also be the same drugs that allow my brain (and other people's brains) to calm down and find focus, the way "normal" people can apparently focus the rest of the time. And I can't help wishing we understood that better, because it's so interesting. I want to know ALL THE WHYS, but doctors only seem interested in "if we give these to ADHD peeps they become more useful members of society, the end". And society only seems interested in "someone might have a good time with this! we must make it illegal/regulate it out the wazoo!"
I also do not get stimulated by coffee; in fact, it's more likely to put me to sleep. This is also apparently more common in ADHD peeps. I have never understood the stories of people getting a buzz from this or that, because I don't get any of them, despite the way "normal" people seem to think everyone responds the same.
And I think a lot about the fact that people with ADHD and similar are apparently much more likely to smoke, do drugs, drink alcohol, or be "addicted" to other things that are considered "immoral" by modern society, and I wonder how many of those people are actually self-medicating to deal with the same chaos in their heads that I have, that my partner has.
I've got several friends who've always survived on coffee, not because it gave them a buzz, but because it helped them chill and focus. And most of those friends have gone on to get ADHD diagnoses and helpful medication since then.
I also have what's called "time blindness", by the way. It's apparently really common in neurodivergent brains like mine as well. I just don't register the passage of time properly, if at all. I need external prompts or I would miss every single appointment, deadline, meetup, everything. And the stimulants don't help with that; they only help with giving me more ability to put those external prompts in place.
And honestly this isn't really a problem, and being oblivious to time wouldn't bother me, except that the world insists on forcing arbitrary rules on us that require us to be aware of it. "pay this bill by X date or else". "attend this meeting at X time or else". I get overwhelming anxious when faced with other people's imposition of time onto my consciousness, because no matter what I do, it just doesn't register properly, but they always get furious if I miss something they considered important.
But damn, I wish we could all just chill and let time be, because getting caught up in the magic of something and not even noticing the hours go by is such a blissful feeling.
Anyway, I know this is all a huge tangent, and I don't really know what the answer to "now what?" actually is. But for better or worse, stimulant drugs have absolutely been a part of me getting closer to figuring that out. And I feel like a lot more people in the world would be a lot better off if societies would stop insisting that everything that makes people feel good must be banned.
You write very well, and particularly about this topic.
I totally relate as I have family and bank accounts and get drawn in by social media. That swing in perspective from cosmic vibration to 'todo lists'.
Laughter and time.
Something about the way you describe that experience of laughing seems so central in the one context and a bit distanced in the other. And the way time comes crashing back in reminds me of the watch that Quentin gets in Faulkner's Sound and Fury, one given by his father and engraved - "If not now, when?" - the 'carpe diem' quote from Horace(?). It is similar to your question, maybe? ANd like your question it has weight, heaviness, constraint
Quentin's father gives him the watch which was in turn given to him by his father (Quentin's grandfather) and says: "I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire..." and how the watch is "...the reducto absurdum of all human experience...." One of the most oppressive sentences I can remember reading... And in the story it seals his fate. The question is a prison.
Like Eliot notes in the Waste Land
“I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison”
The question is that kind of key, maybe?
Your laughter during the experience in the temple made me think of a very different book that I have treasured since high school. The Tao Te Ching, I have reread a lot. And sometimes listen to (on youtube) Wayne Dyer's hokey reading with binaural beats when I cant go to sleep...
The wise student hears of the Tao and
practices it diligently.
The average student hears of the Tao
and gives it thought now and again.
The foolish student hears of the Tao
and laughs aloud.
If there were no laughter, the Tao
would not be what it is.
Laughter is not frivolous. You referenced a war in in its 488th day a year or so removed from a war that lasted much of a generation. Laughter feels improper or obscene in the context of suffering and yet it isn't.
I feel like I read something in Nietzsche years ago that related to this, maybe Zarathustra or 'Gay Science' or 'Use and Abuse of History'. How laughter is a serious tonic for a soul that has broken free from restraints...
I don't pretend to have any answer here - just spend time thinking of similar things. Thank you for the post!
Well for starters one might reread the Alan Watts quote until one gets it. At the point it is gotten all the unanswerable questions will slowly begin dissolving. The reality of the time illusion will slowly come into focus. The what part of now what will be discarded and only now will remain. Of course this understanding is nothing new. It is eternal.
I wouldn't say any of this resonates, I'd say ALL of it does (except maybe the breastfeeding part). Thank you very much for your words. And even if you hadn't given any concrete advice at all at the end, the post would've been worth writing just for clearly and honestly expressing what so many of us feel so much of the time.