Life is easier if you embrace change

greg-rakozy-38802-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Our universe has an insatiable tendency to change. Since the moment of its spectacular inception, in which a singularity of unfathomable density and temperature exploded with the strength of a million gods, the cosmos has undergone endless, beautiful revision.

The formation of subatomic particles – the tiniest specks known to us – went on to form larger atoms, raging stars, colossal planets, and expansive, glittering galaxies, all vacillating from one state to another, without purpose or need for reason. The horizon-spanning landmasses that support our species are constantly shifting back and forth, forging snow-laden mountains that soar into the luminous sky, or deep subterranean trenches that lay forever hidden in the impenetrable darkness. 99 percent of the species to have existed on planet Earth – over 5 billion unique groups – have found themselves extinct, subject to the relentlessly changing nature of our universe, in which each organism plays their short role before relinquishing their atoms to another venture.

The entire universe is, and always has been, in a state of flux. If the cosmos were a sentient being, one might assume that it behaves this way in order to keep things interesting. After all, nothing induces boredom quicker than a stale, changeless situation, lacking freshness and surprise. Variety is what makes our planet so intoxicating, and yet, as a species we have a foolish, unremitting desire to cling onto positive experiences, in an attempt to prevent their escape. We wail and squirm when a period of delight transforms into mediocrity, as if the cosmos will heed our complaints and alter its immutable proclivity for change. We frantically try to grasp onto every morsel of happiness that befalls us, praying that our kitten-like grip will somehow hold on, but failing every single time. We revolt against the inevitably of change, and it makes us depressed.

Two religions of the mysterious East – Buddhism and Taoism – can help us with this problem. Alan Watts – an influential figure who helped popularise Eastern philosophy in the West – called Buddhism the religion of no religion, due to its non-dogmatic, practical, and philosophical nature. Taoism has similar qualities. You won’t find a single prayer-receiving god in Buddhism or Taoism.

Buddhists believe that personal suffering is caused by our implacable tendency to become attached to what we desire, whether it be a pleasant emotion, removal of death, freedom from pain, or anything else that we crave. Surrendering our attachments leads to Nirvana, a state of blissful peace and liberation. When you consider the flux-like, constantly changing nature of the universe, this makes a hell of a lot of sense. It’s impossible to become attached to anything because it’ll soon change into something else, and by foolishly trying to lengthen the experience by clinging onto it – as though our grasping will prevent its transformation – we’re condemning ourselves to disappointment.

What is required is an unrelenting acceptance of our universe’s fluidity, in which we must enthusiastically immerse ourselves. We can no longer live under the foolish assumption that we can trap our positive experiences in a large jar and climb in with them whenever we’re feeling blue. Agreeable situations will emerge, be enjoyed, and then naturally transform into something else. We suffer needlessly because we revolt against the universe’s love of change.

“Transitoriness is depressing only to the mind which insists upon trying to grasp. But to the mind which lets go and moves with the flow of change, which becomes, in Zen Buddhist imagery, like a ball in a mountain stream, the sense of transience or emptiness becomes a kind of ecstasy.” — Alan Watts

“If you try to change it, you will ruin it. Try to hold it, and you will lose it.”
― Lao Tzu

Life is transition – you can’t pause the show and fix things into place, however much you’d like to. Things come and go naturally – resisting this fact pollutes our souls with misery.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” —Lao Tzu

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” —Alan Watts

Our existence can be considered a glorious, dynamic adventure, brimming with experiences both light and dark, and constantly exciting. We make our way through a chapter and look back over our exploits, perhaps with a tinge of regret that things have to change, until we’re ready to move onto something provocatively brand new.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” — Jack Kerouac

The ultimate change that we resist is our own death. We desperately want to step outside the confines of our changing universe, so that we may dodge its brutal laws and become eternal gods. Our capacity for memory and prediction allow us to delve into the past and future, which are incredible tools for survival, but curse us with the desire to live everlastingly. Before we developed these skills, the only thing that existed for us was this moment. We had no concept of eternity, nor any desire to become acquainted with it. We were free to live in the forever changing now – a perfectly mindful existence. Mental time-hopping may have helped to escalate our species to the top of the food chain, but it’s instilled a debilitating fear of our eventual demise. Funnily enough, most of us have already died many times over. Our cells are constantly croaking and being replaced anew, including the parts of ourselves that we personally identify with – our consciousness-creating brain cells.

“It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.” — Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

Memory cleverly pulls the wool over our eyes, creating an ongoing impression of your own identity. But on an atomic level, you are not the same person that you were when you started reading this article.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” — Heraclitus

The atoms that make up our bodies are so copious, durable and replaceable that there’s a good chance of us containing a little bit of past genius:

“Atoms, in short, are very abundant. They are also fantastically durable. Because they are so long lived, atoms really get around. Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you. We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms– up to a billion for each of us, it has been suggested– probably once belonged to Shakespeare.”
― Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

On an atomic level, we’re all eternal – the atoms that make up our bodies will eventually depart, to become part of a chunky brown baobab tree on the plains of Africa, a humble poo-pushing dung beetle, or perhaps a future tyrannical politician. Though our consciousness expires, we survive. Humans are simply an insignificant expression of our ferociously dynamic universe; a cosmos that shakes and jives, splattering atoms across the face of gleaming galaxies, mixing and merging until something chimp-like emerges.

Change and variation is what makes our world endlessly breathtaking, and by realising that life would become monotonously stagnant without it, we can start to come to terms with our long and imperfect journey. Fear, sorrow and desperation are equally as important as courage, joy and contentment. Without death, we cannot hope to experience an exhilarating, spirited life. Change is what paints the world with luminous, spine-tingling colour; the dark hues are what make the light so gorgeously prevalent. All we need to do is take a deep breath, and plunge into it.

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Australians love illegal drugs, please make them safer

poison-1481596_1280.jpgImage by qimono

At some point in our distant evolutionary past, a primate chanced upon a sticky swirl of fermented fruit, and after making the decision to consume it, felt the pleasant effects of a drug for the first time. Much changed over the next few million years, but our collective love for drugs isn’t one of them. Whether it’s the energy-boost from a cup of coffee that releases us from our zombie-like state, the numbing relaxation of a pint of lager that permeates us with ease, or the love-inducing effects of an ecstasy pill whereby we want to hug everybody, many of us adore how drugs make us feel.

Drugs have the ability to make us more productive employees, more likeable people, or seemingly better dancers. They can transform the steady, monotonous thump of a house beat into something wonderfully hypnotising, for which you’ll happily spend five hours dancing to. They can remove the stifling, anxiety-inducing edginess which is ingrained in social interaction, or make a difficult conversation a little easier to handle.

Drugs can also lead you to a sickening addiction that may result in giving alleyway blowjobs, surrounded by scores of needles and scum-filled pools of water. A thunderous techno beat might be the last thing you ever hear if you take too many ecstasy pills. Legal drugs aren’t any better – alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to withdraw from, creating hallucinations, severe body tremors, and occasionally death. Cigarettes are notoriously tough to quit, and create a cancerous, sticky black tar in the lungs of their smokers.

Drugs can be extremely dangerous when abused, but despite the plethora of information outlining the risks, we take them regardless. This is how much we love them.

Debates are raging in Australia at the moment about the possibility of implementing pill-testing tents at music festivals, offering attendees the chance to discover what their illegal drugs actually contain, and how strong they are. A few months ago, New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian pushed back against the idea, stating the following:

“We do not support a culture that says it is OK to take illegal drugs, and I am worried about the number of people who attend these events who think it is OK to take illegal drugs.” —Gladys Berejiklian

The crux of the problem is this: it doesn’t matter whether the Australian government gives their approval to take illegal drugs, people are going to take them anyway. The fact that there’s a $320 billion dollar black market is proof of this. Until our governments develop some kind of effective mind control, our love of drugs isn’t going to change, and we’ll continue taking them, illegal or not.

Prohibition obviously doesn’t work, it just goes underground and creates a network of crime that governments waste billions battling against. Every single country that has embarked on a war on drugs has failed miserably, not because they lacked the correct strategy, but because people have a strong desire to take drugs. Where there’s a desire, there’s a market.

The government has also tried drug-scare campaigns, which in a comical backfire, have shown to have the complete opposite effect, with people more motivated to take drugs after encountering the campaign. No amount of bodybag or car crash imagery will prevent people from doing what they love. I cannot reiterate this point enough – people will continue to take drugs, regardless of the government’s futile attempts to convince them otherwise. History has proven this point time and time again.

In light of the fact that people are always going to want to take mind-altering, illegal substances, and that convincing them not to take them is a laughable failure, any sane person would surely agree that we should do whatever we can to ensure that their drugs are as safe as possible? Would any politician in their right mind – Gladys Berejiklian included – argue against this point? Can they really continue pushing the astonishingly pathetic, antiquated idea of just say no? People don’t just say no, they just say yes, regardless of the fact that they’re risking death (albeit the tiniest chance) every time that they take them. If you can’t frighten a drug-user with the prospect of their death, you’re not going to frighten them with anything.

Inevitability cannot be fought, so the only sensible solution is to make illegal drugs as safe as possible. Festival drug testing tents have been shown to be an effective way of doing this, simply by giving users more information about their drugs. It’s absolutely astonishing that politicians like Gladys Berejiklian, and NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller, are claiming that it’s a bad thing to know whether your drugs contain a poison that will kill you. This is one of those situations where their arguments are so ridiculous that you half-expect it to be a prank. There’s simply no scenario where life-saving information about your illegal drugs is a bad thing, unless you’re advocating more death, which as bizarre as it sounds, is exactly what people like Gladys Berejiklian and Mick Fuller are doing.

Former police chiefs and politicians (who no are longer concerned about pursuing a career) are calling for decriminalisation. The ambitious NSW premier would never dream of doing this in case she loses voters, but losing drug-users to poisonous pills doesn’t seem to be so much of a problem. The recent spate of drug-related deaths in Australia may not have happened if the victims had access to a service that detected the deadly toxicity in their drugs, or were offered advice from a knowledgable, sympathetic drug-worker.

I don’t believe for a second that Gladys Berejiklian or Mick Fuller actually think that the approval of pill-testing tents will legitimise drug use. They’re just so concerned with damaging their own careers that they’re willing to overlook the mountains of evidence that demonstrates the life-saving capabilities of drug-testing. They can no longer ignore the proof. Unless they want more people to die, it’s time to put aside their selfishness and offer serious legislative support for establishing pill-testing tents at every Australian music festival.

 

The dangers of smart drugs

If you’re an athlete with a performance-enhancing chemical coursing through your veins, you’re considered a cheat. The entire country of Russia was banned from the Olympics back in 2015 for repeated doping scandals, and have only recently been allowed to re-enter under strict conditions. It simply isn’t deemed fair for athletes to infuse themselves with ability-boosting chemicals – what would be the point of having a competition in the first place? Unless there’s a baseline – in this case the undisturbed human body – a tournament cannot be fair from the outset.

Widen the scope from a sports competition, to the competition between humans as a whole. Our species is hierarchical in nature, there’s no doubt about that. Unfortunate circumstances and repeated awful decisions might position us at the lowest rungs of the hierarchy – drug-dependent, chaotically-minded, and living on the streets. Auspicious circumstances could place us at the other end of the scale, highly-successful with a fulfilling job and family life. If the bum discovers a fortuitous chemical that will improve his dire position, is that still considered cheating? Would doping our way to the summit of our economic hierarchy turn us into swindling tricksters, just like the Russian athletes?

“Smart” drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, Modafinil, and many others are alleged to give you such an advantage. Droves of students are using them in order to excel in their studies, leaving their peers in the dust. How this affects the self-esteem of those left behind is difficult to measure, not to mention the pressure it puts on them to take the drugs themselves in order to keep up. Classical musicians, highly-respectable and almost regal in their image, are taking beta-blockers in an attempt to control their nerves, creating a dependence in the process. There’s clear similarities in the idea of instilling yourself with Dutch Courage by downing a pint of beer before a nerve-wracking event. The French Foreign Legion, the UK’s Ministry of Defence, and the Indian Air Force are all dabbling in the narcolepsy-treatment Modafinil in order to enhance their troops’ performance. The next world war might bear witness to soldiers popping a few smart pills before clambering over the top into no man’s land. In the prosperous Silicon Valley, tech employees are taking small amounts of psychedelics in order to enhance their creativity; everyone wants to be the next Steve Jobs. Idiotic parents are even hooking up their children to “brain stimulation kits” – literally electrocuting their offspring in an effort to improve them. The tyrannical Nurse Ratchett would be proud.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be the best possible version of yourself, but are smart drugs really a safe way to do so? Though not physiologically addictive like alcohol or cocaine, there’s a clear risk of psychological dependence. When you’ve had a taste of higher-level functioning and reaped the rewards – a job promotion; a better grade on an exam – the incentive to return a lowly, loser-like baseline might be lacking. A bowl of clumpy gruel isn’t quite so appealing after eating Kobe beef. Through consistent use of smart drugs, we’re raising our expectation of what our baseline performance should be. It’s hazardous territory to navigate.

There’s also obvious health concerns to consider. While the traditional smart drugs are FDA-approved, there’s a plethora of other chemicals being sold online which aren’t. Who knows how the impressionable and ambitious souls who take these substances are polluting their bodies? Even the drugs that are approved by the FDA have unclear consequences of long-term use – they simply haven’t been around long enough to know. Are you willing to risk your own health on these chemicals in order to run the rat race a little bit faster? Whatever happened to slowing down and savouring each moment? Life isn’t just about getting ahead of the competition.

It’s easy for drug companies to determine the medical side effects of a product without giving a single thought to the social implications. One only has to look at the opioid epidemic in America as an example, a chemical-compound so effective at numbing pain that it’s become a medical disaster. Could smart drugs be on the same path? Nietzsche’s Will To Power – the idea that the main driving force in humans is to reach the highest possible position in life – supports the idea. Our innate desire to climb the economic hierarchy might be made easier through the use of smart drugs, but at a health cost that nobody really understands. Until we do, it might be wise to continue living your life down in the ditches, unenhanced, as nature intended.

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