Do you place any meaning in life, either for you or for our species, and what philosophy do you apply to living your life?
Funnily enough, I do have some Words With Chryss® brand ideas of what life is about. What it means to be alive, why we are here. And what happens when we die. My philosophy about life (and death) has evolved in recent years, and is still evolving. An ongoing search for my life’s “purpose” has led me to much introspection and internal deep-diving. It has guided me towards meditation, therapy, yoga and lots of reading and learning. And all of that has led me to the basic conclusion that life is a bizarre phenomenon that we cannot explain using the information that we are in currently in possession of. Which goes some way towards explaining why the idea of a god that actually gives a shit about people has gained so much traction over the millennia. So, god. A fantastic being that isn’t just omniscient and omnipresent, but also (cue fireworks and harpsichords) omnipotent as well. Seems a little convenient, don’t it? Look, I just don’t buy into all that jazz. It feels nonsensical to me, and in the absence of any evidence, I’m happy to risk eternal damnation for my disbelief.
But hey, speaking of atheism, have you ever thought very deeply about something and formed a belief structure around your efforts only to discover that an olde worlde Dutch philosopher by the name of Bucher Spinoza came up with the same idea almost four hundred years ago? LOL, me too. Of course there are huge differences in the complexity of our ideas – mostly because he spent his entire life in deep, critical thought and I spend all my free time binging Netflix. And yet… we still somehow landed on the same idea. That the closest thing to “god” in physical, scientific reality is the universe that surrounds us. The universe that is a part of us, and that we are a part of.
When people think of the universe they think of galaxies and stars and black holes and the big bang and dark matter. But everything on earth is composed of elements of the universe that existed billions of years ago. We are literally all made of stardust. If I did believe in a god, that would be it. And I don’t mean to brag, but Einstein was totes on the same page. He famously said, “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”
Everything that exists in the universe, everything, is a part of the universe. Including us. I think that sometimes we tend to identify as observers of the universe, rather than understanding that we are inextricably woven into its fabric. Personally, I subscribe to the notion that human beings are expressions of the universe, and that the minutiae of our lives are absolutely irrelevant, serving only as distractions to our attention. I believe that the true purpose of our existence is to shrug off those distractions in order to focus our attention on the present moment, and to be fully aware of ourselves and our own awareness. And… to simply release everything else. What do I mean by “distraction”? I mean breaking your favourite mug, being hungover, your car breaking down, people gossiping about you, failing an exam, being bullied, running late, overdue bills, headaches, pulling a muscle at the gym, an argument with your partner, being overlooked for a promotion or getting mugged. And if you want to level up, distractions can also include divorce, cancer, or being thrown in jail and tortured for your political beliefs. I mean, sure, that’s some Mt. Everest shrugging, but it is possible.
I believe that the universe breathes life into us, in the form of energy flowing through us. And I believe that we die when that energy ceases to flow. For the most part people tend to live their lives in a kind of weird denial of the fact that we are only here for a finite time. Which is a shame because far from being a morbid preoccupation to think of your own death, it can actually serve to crystallise the fact that this moment (in potentially being your last) can be transformed into something extraordinary.
How would I see the world around me, the room around me, the people around me, if I knew that my next breath would be my last. I honestly think that right now, I could take a deep breath and look around and feel happy, knowing that I’ve lived an amazing, textured life. Knowing that I’ve lived true to myself. Knowing that I’ve been loved. Knowing that I’ve loved others, and loved myself. And even if I weren’t ready to die, if I did know that it was coming, I would be grateful for everything that came before. Every moment is a beautiful gift. And the gift is that we are here to receive it. The gift is that we are here to experience it. And I’ll say it again, because it bears repeating: the gift is that you are here.
What do I think happens to us after we die? I think that’s it. The end. Lights out. We return to the place we were before we were born. We return to oblivion. Darkness. Nothingness. We simply cease to exist. And after a significant amount of time passes, even the memory of us will disappear. Nothing of us remains. The universe is vast, it is powerful, it is everywhere, it is everything. It is old. It is beautiful. The universe is us, and we are the universe.
What do you dream of achieving?
Transcendence. That may seem like a flippant answer, but I promise you it’s not. Apart from retirement, I don’t really have very many corporeal ambitions. Every single day, however, I toil to break free from the binds of being “only human”. This is going to sound pretty new-agey, but I feel like I’ve figured out what my purpose in life is. In simple terms, it is to be present and aware of this moment, because that’s all I have. The long version is that I aspire to rise above (transcend) the dramas and emotions, the ups and downs, the constant rollercoaster of the human condition, and to identify with the purest, most unadulterated version of myself – my consciousness. My awareness. My life force.
So what does it mean to “be present”? It simply means that while I am writing this, I know that I’m writing. It means that when you’re reading it, you know that you’re reading, almost like you’re watching yourself doing it. Being present doesn’t mean that you can’t think about anything else, it just means that when you’re doing that, you know you are doing it. It means that you don’t lose yourself when you’re thinking about those other things. You remain here, and now. Being present means not leaning into the next moment, and not clinging to the last.
People are funny. We spend so much of our time engrossed in thought about things that aren’t even in front of us, things that may never happen, or things that have happened that we can’t change. We spend a lot of time responding and reacting to the world around us when, in fact, nothing is ever actually happening to us. Things are just happening. Ooooh yeah, let that sink in for a second. Nothing is happening to me, things are just happening. Taking that to the highest level, (as much as it may have felt like it) my Mum’s death didn’t happen to me. It was something that happened, but it didn’t happen to me. (Fuck yeah, and if you want to get into some ninja-level shit, it didn’t even happen to her; it was just something that happened).
The concept that nothing is happening to *you* can be difficult to grasp. You are the centre of your universe and it takes a bit of work to mentally shift your framework away from that sole point of reference. It’s only when you are able to see yourself as being part of something bigger that your reference point can change. Usually the “something bigger” is religion, right? Because it’s organised, and actually designed to provide us with comfort and a sense of belonging. It makes sense, to some degree. But where it falls apart for me, personally, is that it’s all based on fantasy. I totally get that seeing yourself as an expression of the universe is far weirder than imagining you are somehow descended from Adam and Eve, because we know very little about the mechanism behind how the universe works. There’s no handbook. Is the universe alive? Is it conscious? Is it self-designing? Is it chaos? Is it exerting a will? If we are part of the universe, is our will our own, or are we just puppets being controlled by it? If I am an expression of the universe, then….. shit, am I the universe? These are big, scary questions for which we do not have answers. My journey has taken me on a path that doesn’t even need answers. I don’t need to make up stories to comfort myself. I’m OK with the discomfort of not knowing.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m anywhere near achieving my goal of transcendence, but I’ve definitely seen some personal growth in my ability to just let shit go. My progress is hardly linear though (as I’m sure David would attest). Some days are more difficult than others, and I always do better after I’ve had a cleansing session with Zimmy. I always do better when I lay off the booze. But, I am no longer searching for my purpose. I know my purpose, so I have a head start. I just need to keep on trying. Transcendence seems a long way off, but I am prepared to spend the rest of my life trying.
What makes you angry?
This was (hands down) the most difficult question anyone asked me. I pondered this question almost every single day for months, trying to come up with what felt like the right answer. It became a Gordian knot that I was driven to untangle.
On a global scale, I’m angry at capitalism, I’m angry at massive, inscrutable corporations making zillions of dollars at humanity’s expense, I’m angry at governments for allowing it, and I’m angry at the injustice of it all. I am angry that a handful of people benefit (obscenely) from the abject destruction of our beautiful earth. The climate crisis is not the people’s fault. It is capitalism which allows a very small number of people to gain everything, as the rest of us helplessly watch our home burn (and flood, and shake, and freeze, and fall apart). I am angry about the information recently published in the Pandora Papers, exposing the billions of dollars of cash and assets hidden from public view by billionaires and government officials including kings, presidents and prime ministers from countries like Jordan, the Czech Republic, Kenya, Hong Kong, UAE, Chile, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. Countries in which the divide between the rich and the poor isn’t just vast, it’s incalculable. I’m angry that billionaires even exist. Because to make a billionaire, millions of people must live below the poverty line. I’m angry that capitalism lauds religion to soothe the poor and hungry masses, when it is the capitalists themselves who keep them poor and hungry. I’m angry that despite it being a very broken system, we all cling to it because we believe that without it we may be stripped of all the nice, shiny things we’ve surrounded ourselves with under the illusion that they’ll make us happy. I’m angry at Musk and Bezos for squandering billions in their small-dick race to colonise the planet Mars, our inhospitably dusty, red neighbour, when people are starving to death in muddy slums. On this planet.
So yeah, I’m angry about a few things. But these angers don’t burn red-hot in the pit of my stomach. I feel them more as a dull, heavy weight, compressing me whenever I think about the state of the world. It feels overwhelming, and hopeless, and I see no potential resolution for any of it. I actually envisage it becoming worse. If I allowed my anger to burn about these things, I would flame out and die.
But hey, if we’re talking about anger on a personal level, that is something I have worked on a lot. Holocaust survivor and psychologist Edith Eger mentions in her book, “The Gift” that anger is often caused when there’s a gap between our expectations and reality. And I believe this to be the root cause of all anger. Whether you are angry because you’ve lost your patience with someone, or you’re being disrespected, or you’ve suffered an injustice, it all boils down to reality not meeting the expectations that you had. So, the easiest way to solve that problem is to not have any expectations. Right? Well, actually it’s not easy at all; it’s extremely bloody hard. It also happens to be one of the tenets of Buddhism.
The Buddha considered “craving” to be the single greatest fetter (shackle, or chain) to achieving happiness and enlightenment. Aspiring to something (a possession, a relationship, a state of being) is fine. But as soon as you start to expect a desired outcome, it becomes a condition that can prevent you from being happy and at peace in your life. I want to be happy and at peace. Letting go of expectations doesn’t mean that you don’t give a shit about things or people. It just means that you can experience it all without gripping onto it for survival. When you can learn to do that, you’ll be able to experience negative emotions, like anger, without reacting to them; and you will no longer be defined by these transient flows of energy. You’ll be able to step off the rollercoaster. And that’s a beautiful state to be in.
As well as learning to let go of anger mentally, and emotionally, I’m also learning to let go of it physically. Last year, during the early months of COVID, I took up yoga as a way to keep my body moving, and I’ve been practising nearly every day since then. At the end of every session there is a pose called savasana, also known as corpse pose, where you lie on the ground with your legs apart and your arms by your side. Believe it or not, this is the single most important pose in yoga. It is the pose in which we learn to relax our body on command, and I can’t stress enough what a gift that is. Whenever I’m having trouble sleeping, I harness the power of savasana to assist my body and mind to just let go. It has also helped me in moments of anger. I might feel the anger rising up in my body, as a physical reaction, a tightness in my chest, but I am able to neutralise it, simply by relaxing my body, taking a deep breath and letting go of the tightness. This is not the same as pushing the anger down or denying it. I actually allow myself to feel the emotion, to honour it. But then I just let it go.
OK, so it’s not always as neat as I’m making it sound, and sometimes it’s extremely fucking messy. Sometimes it just doesn’t work at all, and the anger erupts and I snap or yell or tense up. Despite all my efforts, I am still only human. But I’m working on it.
Do you lash out or project your anger onto others?
This is something that I definitely make a huge effort not to do. You know, I think I used to be a much angrier young woman than I am now. I think I used to stomp around feeling like I wasn’t getting mine, or whatever. I don’t feel that way anymore. I no longer feel like I’m owed anything. By anyone, not even the universe. And so, with effort I have learned to manage urges to lash out. I have learned to view the world as neutral, something to be observed. Remember; nothing is happening to me, things are just happening. And so there is no need for me to ever feel targeted or victimised by anything that happens. Ever. Instead of being personally affronted by things that would have made me angry in the past, I try to see them as an opportunity for growth. A chance to practise letting go, almost like a game. Of course it doesn’t always work, and yes, things happen that might be a hassle, or annoying, but it no longer ruins my day. I can shrug it off and even choose to be happy! And therein lies the freedom of being able to transcend all the bullshit, rather than getting mired in it. All day long, regardless of what’s going on around me, I can make the choice to be happy.
Are you angry with yourself for being taken in?
I am usually less angry with myself and more disappointed if that happens.
And ultimately can you let it go and move on?
I am always letting go. I wake up every morning with the intention of releasing everything, and not holding onto anything. I don’t need to be right. I don’t need to be understood. I don’t need to have my way, and I don’t need to prove anything. I just need to be happy, and I make that my priority.
Are you pissed off that you weren’t taught how to spot the flags of abusers?
No. What I’ve come to realise is that someone can teach you to spot all the flags, and in the end it still doesn’t stop abuse. My Mum was always a bit of a worry wort. She instilled in us the very real knowledge that there are bad people out there in the world and to never really trust anyone. It didn’t prevent abuse.
At whose feet do you lay the blame for that?
I blame nobody but the abuser.