To Choose Life: Suffering, Denial, and The Will

When was the last time in your life you made a decision? I’m not talking about deciding where to go for lunch or picking what you’re going to wear in the morning. I mean truly deciding to do something, understanding the implications of your choice fully and committing wholly to being responsible for whatever may come of it? If you’re like most people, you’ll never really decide to do anything in your life. “But Garrett, people make choices all the time, don’t they?” No, most people live their lives in a noncommittal, lukewarm state of just doing what they’re told, or what’s expected of them, or what they expect that others expect of them. Most people never decide to choose Life. They never really choose to live.

Why?

Making a real choice is hard.

Think about how much of society is structured to assuage the burden of choice. There’s a growing faction of people who are planning to vote for a variety of candidates who allege to forgive student loans- because they made a bad decision and can’t deal with the consequences. (I say this as a college dropout with thousands of dollars in debt.) Think of how many people get divorced after only a few years of marriage, because they want to go back on their commitments. Look at that bullshit “affluenza” kid who was able to get off on probation after killing four innocent people and injuring eleven.

It may be something of a broken record on this site for me to say this, but it bears repeating: our society is fundamentally sick. The basic concepts of reality have been ignored, lost, and obfuscated under centuries of impotent philosophy, overbearing political influence, and the masses of people crying out that it’s not their fault that they’re like this, that the world is like this. The Holocaust and the hundred million dead from Marxist regimes should be evidence enough that no one is coming to save us from ourselves, but there are people out there on both sides of the aisle that would see one or the other reenacted again.

We’re plagued by ignorance in a number of forms. There’s the naive sort of idealism that comes from those who have tried to shelter their children from reality that you see in the universities, and the resentful ignorance of those who have spent their entire lives in the same universities, in a false world that disregards the health of the body for a purely mental existence. There’s a glorified ignorance that lives in the heartland of the country, the proud fools who claim superiority due to the flukes of their birth, the color of their skin, and, astonishingly, the pride-by-proxy of their sports team. Never has it been easier for remarkably average people to find any source of unearned superiority than in this day and age.

Never has it been less common for us to focus on the only true forms of worth that has ever existed- the value of the individual’s achievement, and the excellence that comes from the unified efforts of driven, like-minded individuals.

Why is the individual so maligned? What is it about the achieved, actualized individual that is so capable of inspiring timidity and resentment in the average?

When you rise above the crowd, you become a cold reminder to those below you of how poor their own choices are, that no matter how much they deny the truth of free will or cling to some primitive notions of fate or cruel karma, that they are the reason that they have ended up where they are. Their choices, and no others, are what separates the two of you.

The grand irony is this: among those who strive for greatness, I have found no better company. Those who trust themselves, who hold themselves to a higher standard, and who accept the consequences of their actions- these are those most often to lend a genuine hand. Just as like attracts like, the sort of man who has it in him to succeed wants nothing more than to lift the world and those around him to similar heights. It’s those who refuse to see their own role in their sorry state that will criticize you, hate you, and attempt to drag you back down to their pit.

Now, it’s time for you to make a choice, but first, let me tell you a story.

As I mentioned earlier, I am a college dropout. I was in school for only three semesters- I actually very nearly failed out of English my first semester, a fact that I find a beautiful irony in now. I went to school for a few reasons. The first was to get out of my hometown. The second was because it had always been expected of me. The third was that I was looking for something to give meaning to my life.

I knew fairly early on that I wasn’t going to be able to complete a degree- I hated the educational system, even as early as in high school. However, I found brotherhood there, and made some very dear friends along the way. This was not enough, however, to satisfy the gaping void that I found myself facing- the all consuming feeling of utter purposelessness that permeated my experience. I was probably continuously drunk for well over six months straight, or something to that extent. At the worst point, I was making the attempt to drink myself to death. There was a week where, each night, I prayed for death.

Why?

I was not taking responsibility for the situation I had put myself in. I blamed everyone but myself for the miserable place that I found myself. I blamed the world for not working in such a manner that I could half-ass my way through life. I couldn’t even make the conscious decision to kill myself, I wanted someone else to do that for me, which is darkly fortunate in retrospect.

Eventually, there was nowhere left for me to run from myself.

What I came to realize, at a tremendous cost, was that somewhere, deep in the recesses of my mind, there was a part of me that absolutely refused to die. Despite all of the misery, pity, and weakness I had let myself accumulate, the sense of guilt and shame for the capacity I had always had for excellence, there was still that unconquerable Will that I had tried to hide from- that I had nearly forgotten about.

Why do we run from the Will?

The Will is a constant reminder of the immense burden that choice represents. The Will is expectation meeting reality– it’s the force of your core drive, the source of the power you have within you to reshape the world as you see fit. To feel that drive, that desire, is to know that you have no choice but to fight the world.

It reminds you that the horror of this life, its misery and agony, all of this is your fault.

It’s no wonder that we refuse to face the Will. The Will is an indictment of everything you have done with your life- because the Will is the force within you that tells you:

“You can do anything you set your mind to. You will achieve what you set out to do….”

There’s a difference between the version of that that the self-esteem types told you as a kid and the version that you hear when you meet the Will- your parents and teachers never told you what’s asked of you when that statement is issued. When the Will tells you that, it’s a command, loaded with the implicit attachment:

“You can do anything you set your mind to. You will achieve what you set out to do… but it will take everything you have within you to do it.”

The simple fact of this realization is something we dedicate an enormous amount of effort to not seeing. It took everything but death itself for me to see this harsh reality, and I won’t try and suggest that it’s possible for you to see it with anything less. However, I do believe that we’re capable from learning from the mistakes of others, and I relay this story for the sole purpose of the possibility that this may help just one person deal with the reality of what the Will demands without having to go as far as I did.

At the absolute lowest point, I realized something very specific. Because I realized that I wanted to live, I was forced to face what it truly means to live- this is what I call the Burden of Existence. Nearly all religions and philosophies exist with the expressed or implicit purpose of providing a means by which we can escape the suffering that is so ubiquitous in this life. Some believe in a paradise after death, others in a utopian society that can be achieved, or an escape from the cycle of birth and death that binds us to this world of pain.

What you have to realize, on a fundamental level, is that these are all reasons to die.

Every one of these dogmas, beliefs, and ideologies is a system that allows us to evade the harsh realities of the life we’re living in the hope that it will be better later. Whether it’s a supernatural higher power or the might of an emboldened political mechanism, all of these are a means by which we cripple ourselves by placing our locus of control beyond ourselves.

It’s a means of abdicating responsibility- a system that allows us to deny the Truth of the Burden of Existence.

What is the most central fact of the Burden?

Life is suffering.

That doesn’t seem like anything novel- the Buddha said the same thing three thousand years ago, along with nearly every prophet, revolutionary, demagogue, and ideologue who ever used his voice to deny the Truth of the Burden to his eager followers.

The difference here?

Because I have chosen Life, I had to first accept that Life is suffering. Most people can manage this, as it takes a truly exceptional measure of cognitive dissonance to deny such a fact.

Next, I had to embrace the fact that Life is suffering. This is a significantly harder thing to do- most will seek to evade this level of realization with their religions and ideologies. This looks like some version of, “Life is suffering, but if you ______, you can be free of it.” Insert whatever dogmatic hope you’d like in there, they’re all fundamentally the same. At their core, they’re denials of the fact that “Life is suffering” is a fundamental law of being.

What goes beyond this embrace?

The final level of the realization of the Truth, the most difficult of all things to genuinely understand is this: to welcome the fact that Life is suffering. To accept this with all of your being: because you have chosen to live, you have chosen to suffer. This is the kind of decision I spoke of at the beginning of the article. This is a choice that one cannot make with anything less than full comprehension of the strings attached.

To live is to suffer- to choose to live is to welcome this fact with open arms.

Now, there’s an important distinction here- Life is not exclusively suffering. Life is also beautiful, magnificent, and well worth living. However, beauty and magnificence are not generally things that people struggle with accepting, unless they’re the type that are so far gone that they hate the beautiful and magnificent. In reality, though, that’s just a projection of self-hatred from the solipsistic, miserable types that the world is all too full of.

I know this because I let myself become one.

I will also add this- one does not choose to live once. This is a decision we make over and over again, because it isn’t simply a decision you make with your thoughts. This is a decision that requires you to root out every ounce of weakness, every contradiction, every source of cognitive dissonance within you. Just as a building cannot stand on a flawed foundation, life will not allow you to live well once you become conscious of the fact that you have flaws.

Every time you are faced with an area that you are lacking in, you will return to that choice- fix it, reconcile the contradiction, strengthen the weakness, break the habit, and harmonize the dissonance…

…or die.

This is the Truth of the Will.

When you have chosen to Love life, when you have dedicated yourself to the Will, and when Love and Will are aligned together and aimed at the Truth, the world that you have dreamed of changes from a fantasy to an eventuality. When you choose Life, and welcome the suffering that such a choice entails, you become the Weapon of Fate- something more than a person, the focus of existence, the tip of the Spear of Destiny that will slice through the opposition and the weakness and the sickness and the ignorance that permeates the world we live in. You become a warrior in the Aion Agon- the eternal struggle that this Life presents to the living.

Make your choice.

Garrett Dailey

Garrett Dailey is a formerly homeless D.I.Y. philosopher who believes that one cannot understand the universe without first understanding themselves. To that end, he has committed to a lifelong journey to become the best version of himself, and in the process, create a community for others who wish to do the same. May we all be led from ignorance to the truth. Pros aion Aletheia aionios.

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