Why Am I Writing?

Photo by Aaron Burden

I don’t write because I know something. I write because I don’t. This is the narrative of someone who isn’t fully developed and never will be, and who sees things partially.

Writing occurs when a growing tangle of questions (or contradictions between my everyday life and a wider, less self-defensive perspective) becomes uncomfortable, much like a hairball in a cat. So I’m forced to disgorge this tangle in the form of yet another story or essay.

However, it’s not as if there’s a Right answer to anything and all undeveloped perspectives are simply sophomoric. Every definitive conclusion to my questions and contradictions would remain sophomoric (I remind myself), because there is no positive answer, only negative observations (of what is not true).

But this absence of certainties doesn’t imply the absence of honesty. At any stage of development, at any consistent depth of perception, I’m honest to the degree allowed by that particular depth. At a certain depth, the honesty may be only verbal. At another it may be more behavioral (trying to live up to moral codes and such). Or at still another it might be self-lucidity, the ability to recognize the persistent failure to live up to codes, and the kindness inherent in not trying to be perfect anymore, which is an honesty that exceeds morality. They’re all forms of honesty, but some reach deeper.

And I’m noticing that these stages or depths of perception change moment to moment. I can’t summarize what I think or who I am. I’ve lost interest in the illusion of consistency. Of course, I can still identify certain patterns as dominant – I might be “high strung” for instance – but that might not be a good depiction of that green shoot of vitality, where my truer life is taking shape. That growth is probably mostly hidden to myself and especially to others.  It erupts as an honest perception of my own lingering dishonesties, an ability to see the hidden dishonesties in previous forms of honesty.

This less outwardly visible portion of my life is more important than what I might think of as “me”.

So would I call that small green shoot my Real Life, when my personality is still mainly inconsistent and self-defensive? The larger portion of my life (as far as impact on others, or time spent being lost in reflexive assumptions) is not so green and lively. But the authentic life goes unnoticed often enough, because it erupts in the cracks between the hardened surfaces of habitual responses, like dandelions pushing through concrete. It grows at present through an older, and more stodgy, and habitual sense of Me.  It grows from a common ground that is wider in perspective than self-concern.

Yes, it’s an inquiry into myself, but it’s not about “me”, as in my personal history or problems. It’s about the common momentum of thought that runs “me.” And I’m not trying to present myself as an expert on anything but my own dishonesty. These essays aren’t meant to be read as explanatory, I’m not giving advice. These essays are exploratory surgeries. What’s the point of writing if I already know something? I’m writing because I don’t. The difference is, do I write after I’ve come to some minor conclusion and think it’s worth sharing? Or do I write while the confusion is starting to work itself out, and the writing then becomes an act of learning? There is more vitality in the second.

Then writing allows that peripheral or grounded perspective (where the green shoot grows) to have a chance. This only means a chance to see things honestly. And these “things” I see are the dishonesties I’ve tried to ignore till now. Honesty is the perception of dishonesty. Every honest thing I’ve ever done has amounted to the realization of a previously hidden dishonesty. This may change as the mind explores itself more deeply. It could be that honesty becomes something a little different after we stop moving in such a relentlessly positive direction, seeking conclusive certainty out of fear.

Perhaps a different kind of honesty is initiated when we hit this central dishonesty in our lives with enough velocity: it’s the lie that claims it’s possible to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Because we can’t know the whole truth. We can only know part of an ever-developing reality. We can only know summaries from limited perspectives. We can only know fictions or stories, which can be honest or dishonest

If we realize that everything is only an angle, a helpful distortion, or at best an honest fiction, then our thoughts won’t be driven by fear into seeking and clinging to desperately self-delusional dogmas. And then the inevitably limited nature of what we “know” changes from a frustration into an ever-enticing suggestion of something “more.” Then it’s possible for honesty to become a kind of perpetual alertness to the edge of learning, a constant awareness of the limits of every idea.

It sounds exhausting to constantly see the limits of every idea, but it seems to be the natural state of flow for any living being. Like a heart that never stops beating. I sometimes pity the heart and wonder if it couldn’t just stop for a while and take a rest. Probably not a good idea; to the heart, drumming is life. Likewise constantly seeing the limits of every idea we hold is what keeps us lively and coherent. It can’t stop; it can’t rest in conclusion until it’s dead.

Learning to look through our own beliefs is avoided at this point in our culture, so we’re resistant to error, which is resistance to honesty, which is dishonesty. So most of the time we’re discouraged from doubting ourselves, as if that were a sign of weakness. When in fact the absence of doubt is the surest sign of weakness; we’ve settled on a fixed opinion and can never learn. The heart of intelligence stops.

So writing allows me to be honest in a more sustained and focused way. It allows me to sort through all the contradictions that generally plague me. Because I can see the footprints of my thoughts on paper; I can see them more objectively or non-personally and respond to them more coherently, and in this way maintain a longer span of attention than usual.

So it allows me to nurture that seedling, punch through this hardened ground of assumptions that limits my awareness.

Writing also helps the rational mind recognize the existence of something it can’t reach. This helps calm the rational, problem-solving mind. It’s relieved of duty in a certain direction for the first time ever. I can’t “solve” life; I can only be honest about it. And it’s the hidden dishonesties, it turns out, and nothing more, which caused the problems.

So who am I addressing? I think I’m addressing that wider, peripheral mind that knows a deeper, non-verbal form of honesty, and which belongs to everyone. It’s everyone’s potential I’m addressing. I’m talking to that impersonal (non-defensive) honesty, which is the seedling of a truer life in me and you. It grows from a shared ground; although each person becomes an idiosyncratic expression of that ground.

So in a sense I’m addressing a secret friend, all of us who are beginning to sense the emergence of a new way of relating to our “selves” and to “others.” It’s not a select group, it’s not composed of intellectuals, many of whom are so deeply stuck in systems of thought that they can’t distinguish the idea of an apple from the far more real taste and texture, smell and feel of an apple. The Real apple requires no stupefying intermediary of a thought or image. But it might nevertheless be an intellectual who sees this, or a librarian, or bus driver or carpenter. Intelligence is not self-sorting as we were led to believe. It’s the wider perspective that holds the intelligence; In fact, it doesn’t even belong to an individual brain, but to any honest person who sees things without taking anything personally.

So this is also not a personal quest. The content of our thoughts is personal. But the process of thinking is universal. We need to move to a less personal perspective to find the central error driving us to live in so many destructive ways. It’s not about finding personal happiness. Happiness is irrelevant when the larger world comes knocking.

3 thoughts on “Why Am I Writing?

  1. Updated this a bit on 12/2/2020. Removed the awkward or rude suggestion that I don’t care if anyone reads this. I do, but I don’t pursue that as a goal. I felt the great need to write this as a kind of personal foundation or maybe even confession, setting the stage for things to follow. A clarification of motives that helps clear the way for something. A more utilitarian than inspired essay.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d also like to note that “not coming to rest in conclusions” doesn’t imply a frantic and perpetual analysis or search. It means living peacefully with one’s own contradictions, not seeking certainty, not struggling to be perfect, only honest. Learning in this way is far less busy (and yet far more active or activating) than more positive or accumulative ways of learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One more note: I said, “Writing also helps the rational mind recognize the existence of something it can’t reach.” I would like to develop this a little more in some future “surgery.” Realizing the limits of ideas is simultaneously the realization of the extent to which those ideas are valid. The positive and negative discoveries go hand in hand.

    Liked by 1 person

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