Jealousy is an unfortunate emotion. It consumes us. I feel it still, though less so than when I was younger, when it would burn up inside of me like a wildfire. Now it is more a tiny spark of flint and steel striking, more energize than enervate.
Base jealousy is an aimless wandering of the spirit. It poisons a relationship, as well as our enjoyment of what we do actually have. I don't think it ever goes away. Banishing it and willing it away will only make it return, like a boomerang, to whack the unsuspecting wielder in the back of the head. How does one wrestle jealousy then?
Accept it. Accept it, and eventually transform it.
I'll be twenty five years old in one month and eleven days. Twenty five years old doesn't sound like much- until I reframe it as fully a quarter of a hundred years. It's a sobering thought, for me at least. There was a time when the average life-span wasn't much longer than this. I reflect on everything I've lived, seen, done, experienced, failed at. I try and be grateful for it all- it's what brought me to where I am today. Amor Fati. I see the narrative threads that twist and curve and weave together, I see the transitions between different periods of my life as starkly as a black and white photo. The real thing was messier, of course. But any narrative we tell is basically all made up anyway so I might as well make it a better story.
Several months ago I was talking to someone who explained how, a bit more than ten years ago, he left his comfortable corporate job- he was on a fast track to run the company in a few years- he left it to travel the world and follow his bliss. What he said was striking was that, after twenty years working at this company, he almost never thought of it. It was where he spent at least half of his waking hours most days for two decades. He said he thought of his time there maybe twice a year- basically only when someone asked him about it. Could this be called lost time?
I am learning to mistrust parts of myself. For example, a knee-jerk reaction of understanding. I get that sometimes when I hear or read something. It clicks and it makes so much sense! So I stop thinking about it and move on to something else.
Yet later I try and explain it and struggle to put it into words. To my chagrin, this happened to me the other day when I tried to explain to a friend a book I recently read. After a couple minutes of struggling with words, I sort of circumscribed the meaning of the book. He got the idea of what I was talking about- maybe. Maybe he just wanted me to shut up about it already. But it got me thinking- did I really understand the book before I had to explain it?
At a Meetup group I organize we were discussing the role language plays in our conception of the world. I brought up the idea of code switching. Code switching is a fancy term for when one person, often in the same conversation, will switch dialects or even languages if they are bilingual. Easy examples include a black person who speaks "white" around his white friends and "black" around his black friends. On a simpler level, think about how each field, discipline, profession, or even hobby has its own jargon that oftentimes is unintelligible to the outsider, even though the jargon is technically in the same language. On a plane once, I sat next to a Latina, raised in the U.S., who while on the phone spoke half of a sentence in Spanish and completed it in English. As a language aficionado myself, there's something about this ability to code switch between languages with such ease, and even in the same sentence, the way this Latina did, that I find irrepressibly fascinating. It took me thinking about it for a while before I understood why.
We use the word friend quite a bit- even to describe those who are more accurately our acquaintances. Seneca, then, provides us with a magnificent picture of who we should consider our true friends in his third letter (Penguin Classics edition). Would we censor ourselves around someone we've accepted into our hearts as a friend? No, says Seneca, and he exhorts his friend Lucilius to be as honest with his friends as he is with himself. Indeed, the letter begins addressing the apparent contradiction Lucilius presents, stating that he does not feel comfortable openly sharing what is on his mind with a so-called friend. Seneca responds, "Why should I keep back anything when I'm with a friend? Why shouldn't I imagine I'm alone when I'm in his company?" As I've found, we shouldn't- else through our dishonesty we risk losing our friend.
It turns out that the overuse of the concept of a friend, like information overload, is not a new concept. Seneca points out that the common usage of friend is really anyone we feel like we know more than an acquaintance, whereas a true friend is, or should be, much more exclusive. It's someone we trust completely, and so have no fears or misgivings about telling them or asking them anything.
One of the ironies of our existence is that the problems we face are almost never new. We typically think they're new, of course, and that makes us feel nice about ourselves. No one likes to feel stuck in a metaphysical rut, after all. Yet we're struggling and fighting against many of the same foibles and patterns our ancestors and ancients faced.
For this reason Seneca's second letter seems bemusingly familiar as he exhorts his friend to avoid a problem that seems all too familiar: information overload. To address which, Seneca advises, "So if you are unable to read all the books in your possession, you have enough when you have all the books you are able to read."
Who knew that this problem existed even when books were scarce and had to be meticulously copied by hand. And yet, in the ensuing millennia, with all our technological prowess and abundance of information, we've yet to come up with an adequate philosophy for processing, valuing, and integrating knowledge.
I had an addiction when I was an adolescent: Videogames.
It started with Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, and really took off when I got my own Xbox 360 for Christmas the year it came out. I would stay up till 2, 3, 4 in the morning or later each night despite having to get up at six each day for school. I slept in cars (probably giving rise to the carcolepsy I still have to this day) and caught other naps when I could, such as in the hallway after school while waiting to be picked up. Miraculously, I somehow stayed awake in my classes. Except for the one class where I was positioned directly behind a friend of mine named Duncan, who was very tall and broad shouldered. I slumbered quite peaceably in that class (At university I would have the opposite problem: I'd sleep plenty yet somehow still fall asleep during class).
In reality, as I think about it, what I was really addicted to was escape.
To conquer comes from the latin con (meaning in this case to bring to completion) and quaerere (meaning to ask or seek). A conquest then is when a search or quest is brought to conclusion. We can see here the etymological relationship of a conquest to the act of questing and questioning. The latin root, quaerere, is the same, as I previously discussed.
A good quest starts with the right question. After all, questioning implies a certain dissatisfaction with the way things are, which is the impetus required for a quest to begin- there must be a wasteland for the hero to heal. The hero quests to answer the question and to heal the wasteland. A conquest is to finally, after much trial and tribulation, answer the question and complete the quest. So by extension a great conquest requires of us a magnificent question to answer.
What questions are you asking of yourself? Of those around you? Of life itself?
Dillon Dakota Carroll
Mesta Park, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States of America
...sees much and knows much