The Myth of Suffering
One fine Sunday morning I found myself at a themed birthday party. The theme of the party was, "1920s Brittish Colonials in the tropics". So naturally, I found myself wearing charcoal grey suit pants, brown dress shoes, a purple checkered button down with an Indiana Jones style safari hat. I typically find great enjoyment poaching the snack table with a drink in hand. That days drink, like most other days, was a double Jim Beam with a squeeze of lime on the rocks and the snack table had a wonderful cheese plate. Innocently enough, as a I was swallowing a big bite of brie on toast, I was approached by a nice looking gentelmen dressed as a queens man wearing a tan colored army costume. He was about 6'1, late 20's, clean shaven with brown hair cut like a man who wanted to keep his job. Relaxed he reached his hand out to shake mine introducing himself.
"Hey, I'm Brett."
"Yo, I'm Willy."
"How'd you come to this crazy party?"
"Went to college with the Queen Bee."
"Nice. I'm part of the hive too."
"When do you graduate?"
"What did you study?"
"International Relations. What about you?"
"Nice. Are you using that for a career now?"
"Kinda, finance is everywhere but I'm a strategic planner for a development firm now. What do you do?"
"I'm writing a book about consciousness."
"Yeah, I know. It happened on it by accident. I hiked from Mexico to Canada and came home with an indentity crisis. By the time I figured out how to sort all that out I learned a lot about consciousness so I figured i'd share it with the homies."
"What? You hiked from Mexico to Canada?"
"Yeah. It's not that big a deal really..."
But I was cut off by my friend Roland. He came swirling through the room in a crimson gown made of lace. The gown looked aged like it had been waiting in a comstume box for just this occasion. He'd slipped it over his jeans. His black curls, scrubby beard and chest hair complimented the crimson gown quite well as he rushed past us holding a double layered, white frosted birthday cake lit with candles."Everyone into the living room! Singing! Come on! Come on! We're going to sing!"
We moved in to the living room. The party gathered in a circle waiting for the the Queen Bee to come inside from the Balcony. She walked in standing tall wearing a long tan skirt, black high heels, a thick belt purposely accentuating her hips, with a white blouse. She completed her costume with a fake colonial white wig and one of those fashionable outdoor sun hats. The Queen Bee had a great sense of humor. It was her party, her theme, and her home which she'd named in the invitition, "La Casa de Kinta Kunta" and I have to give her credit because she was the only black person at the party.
After we bellowed happy birthday and a few white people gave toasts to the Queen Bee's pedigree, I was looking to move back towards the bar when my arm was grabbed by Brett.
"Dude, you gotta tell me about Mexico to Canada." He then looked to his friend lounging on the lazy boy to right of us. "Dean you gotta check this out. He walked from Mexico to Canada."
Dean missed the memo about the costume part and was wearing flipflops, shorts and T-shirt. Clean shaven and handsome he had a sharp jaw line, with a muscual lean build. He talked a bit like a bro.
"Whoa that's a long hike. That's the Pacific Coast trail..."
"Yeah, Pacific Crest Trail."
"Dean isn't part of the hive. He's my child hood best friend but he knows. He came and visited my senior year and we always hang out with the hive when I come up to visit."
"Yeah, it was a amazing going to visit. I've never partied so hard in my life.You guys seem to have a real connection amongst alumni. I always end up hanging out with the hive Alumni whenever Brett comes to visit."
"Yeah, man. It's that shared mustual exerience of living abroad that will do it, I think. Brett where are you visiting from?"
"Las Angelos. But, dude tell me about this trip. Did you do it alone, how long was it again?"
"2600 miles. Finished in a 139 days. But no, I started with my cousin and I finished alone. My cousin likes to party more than me so he ended up going to the beach for a trailcation and I hiked on. We made it to the Oregon-California boarder - 1,700 miles about. Technically I finished alone but I was always with friends."
A small pause.
"Yeah, lots of people on trail nowadays. Youth are restless I think. So, I had friends the whole way. Went through 3 or 4 different friend groups over the 4.5 months."
Brett jumped in. His face was tied up with a question, "So now you're writing a book about consciousness?"
"Yeah, so on trail you get a new name, a new identity..."
"You get a new name? What was yours?" Dean was engaged.
"Brunch? We're you like eating Brunch a lot?" Dean joked.
"uhh well...ready at the crack of brunch...is what my cousin used to say."
After a brief laugh Brett got us back on track, "so you got an identity..."
"Yeah, so you get this identity where you get to reinvent yourself. And the trail is a transformational experience. Mentally, spiritualy, physically, your whole story is re-written. For example, I started out doing 15 miles and waking up the next morning in an incredible amount of pain. But 15 turned to 18, 18 to 20, 23, 25, 28, 30, 100 miles in three days, then I ended up doing 375 miles and almost the whole state of Oregon in 12 days. You break down your limits and really become that new identity and for me after living abroad at Franklin I'd already been educated out of the American Mythos so...."
"Mythos?" Dean looked confused. He stood up out of his lazy boy, "I dont understand."
"Well, every culture has it's own mythology that we are raised with. This mythology provides direction and purpose for our life. The engine of every major culture has it's own mythology..." Brett cut me off
"Yeah, It's like the idea - you get a degree, you get a job, wife, mortgage, kids and then retire."
"Ok" Dean was still looking confused, he turned his head looking out to the rest of the party disconnecting from the conversation for just a moment.
"The mythos defines what is "right" and "wrong" in society. The mythos is the collection of stories that provides guidance for when we have to make really important life decisions. It's the philosophy for how we harmonize with external world - with nature. And when you have a millions of people being guided by the same point of view it creates a huge force that creates infrastructure, customes, heirarchy, modern politics, media and it becomes like a wave of perspective. And, if you find yourself like me with dreams that don't match the direction of that wave but you are forced to live in that culture then you become neurotic. And being nuerotic is like living on a swing. You force yourself to participate but you have this internal pull that wants to go a completely different direction and the result creates an internal hell swinging from anxiety to despair and back again. It's really terrible. But that experience is different for everyone. You could just feel a hollowness inside you, like something is missing. I think my exerience was worse than most."
"huh" I noticed that Brett was beginning to get nervous, not being able to stand still. He walked over to the mantel and grabbed the bottle of Rose' refilling his friend and then himself. Dean looked around the party again.
"So yeah, when I got back from trail I got the double whammy because not only was I nuerotic but I also came home with an alter-ego named Brunch." Dean looked at his phone, made eye contact nodded and then walked away. Brett was still interested so I continued.
"So yea, Brunch is super super powerful but Willy was broken, nuerotic and couldn't function in society. So I had this internal pull that brought me to the edge of suicide."
"God damn." Brett said. He walked over to the mantel and put the Rose' bottle back.
"Yeah, anyways. The thing you learn on trail when you are in in the middle of nowhere and you have to walk 50 miles to get food is that you have to take responsibility for your emotions. The lesson is: emotional discomfort is an internal problem and it's my creation that I have to get over. So when I got home I intuitively knew this was an internal physical problem. Then after a bit of research once I figured out an assessible process for healing my mind I began this huge chore of integrating these two identities. Once I started getting huge emotional relief, I became obsessed with being able to write about it. In liberal arts, if you can't write about it than you don't know it. If you can't explain it to a child than you don't have it down yet."
"Wow, this is really powerful stuff. How far along are you? I assume you want to make money off this, do you have a publisher?"
"No, I'm sort of reinventing the idea of a book. It's about personal growth so I'm making a living book where you get to watch the performances that I used to grow out of my internal discomfort. So I'm using a wix website. The side effect of healing emotional discomfort is creativity so the majority of the lesson exists in a really long poem I wrote. The poem is the guide. And you know, I think that emotional intelligence should be taught in school so I'm making all the content free. But we gotta live you know? So, I've addded my own twist - per se. I'm subtly branding it as street art for the internet so I've hidden 16 "collection hats" in the artwork of the site for fun, kinda like "Where's Waldo?". You can click on the hats for fun if you want, some will be more obvious than others and they'll take you someplace new. But in likeness to street art, the purpose is to raise awareness. All of the acting performances are one take and all of the writing is steam of conscious for the most part, with very little editing. I have no idea what's going to happen, per usual. Maybe people will drop a dollar in everytime I blow there mind or make them laugh. Or maybe they wont. Who knows."
A pause. And then Brett said, "huh" as he moved back over to the Mantel and grabbed the bottle of Rose again.
"Yeah, at the end of the day, I just want to break one myth. And that's the myth of suffering."
He looked at me, his eyes clouded over with his own thoughts. He gestured that I wait a moment. He walked over with the wine to his buddy Dean who'd struck up a conversation on the other side of the room. He filled his cup. I took a breath, knowing that I wouldn't have an audience for my next thought. I'd reached the edge of comfort. The edge of the mythos. We just have to get around the myth that internal emotional discomfort is a symble of weakness. It's just a part of life. Instead of avoiding it - instead of letting it guide us - we can understand emotional discomfort as an opportunity to break ourselves open and discover our creative potential. All it takes is a shift in perspective. An understanding that suffering creates a very tangible pattern that we can use to our advantage. I closed my eyes and took a drink. Letting the harshness of the whiskey refocus my attention.
Brett suddenly made his way back moving with concern, "But, ok so. Say this takes off. Say this goes viral and the infrastructor and mythos that built this world - say that it collapses. That mythos has given you the opportunity to go learn all of this. Like what would happen? It's obvious it's created so much. What would we do without it?"
"Well, growth and change is a slow gradual step by step kinda thing so it's going to take time for it to dissolve, but I figure we'd become empowered and creative enough to create something better. Something more equal and...comfortable, per se."