Switch to mobile version

July 2022

Post image for You Are Always the Other Person

Imagine that when you die your life is converted into an extremely long, first-person YouTube video, which you may review at your leisure.

While you’re fast-forwarding through it, looking for certain memorable moments, one thing you’d see frequently is a person you know entering the room you’re in, talking with you for a while, and then leaving for a much longer while. Seeing people come and go like this might crystalize one of the poignant realities of living a human life: you’re the only one who’s there from start to finish.

In life, there’s you — the omnipresent Protagonist — and then countless Other People. Most of them are bit players, but some of these Other People are major characters in your story. They might spend quite a lot of time onscreen, but they always remain Other People. You never get to see inside their heads, you don’t get to choose their behavior, and ultimately you know them only by what they do and what they say. Most of the time, no matter how large their role in your story, they’re simply offscreen — somewhere out there in the world, doing who knows what.

I had a surreal moment, while having dinner with one of my favorite Other People, in which I realized that at that moment, as I sat across a Formica table in a local pizza place, that I was the Other Person. At least for my friend, I was the person who was not present most of the day, who at some point appeared at the door, smiled and sat down at the far side of the table, talked about what I’d been up to, ate some pizza, walked with her to the corner, said goodbye, and disappeared again into the distance. I am one of many Other People for her, just as she is for me.

Read More
Post image for What to Do if You’re Not a Naturally Tenacious Person

Throughout my life, when faced with adversity, I’ve often wanted to magically become either a cat or an Olympic athlete.

Cats are enviable because they’re immune to worry and striving, and feel no pressure to accomplish long-term projects. They are completely satisfied to bask in a square of sunlight on the carpet, or squat on a dresser like a Zen chicken, blinking slowly and indifferently. It would be nice to have such a close alignment between one’s natural desires and one’s capabilities.

I’ve envied athletes for similar reasons, although they approach life very differently than cats do. Top athletes have clear goals and a kind of inner drive that seems able to move them through vast amounts of pain and difficulty. On some level they must want to get up at 5:00am to throw medicine balls against a wall. They want to run or ski or pommel-horse until their bodies – not their minds – threaten to quit on them, if that’s the cost of a shot at a gold medal.

I’ve never wanted a gold medal, but I’ve always wanted whatever quality it is that makes people want gold medals – or anything — that badly.

Read More
Post image for Trying to Be More Present Isn’t Enough

A million years from now, when alien anthropologists begin gathering evidence about what humans were like, they will definitely want to dig up the Self-help and Spiritual/Religion sections of our bookstores and libraries. There they will find direct evidence of what we yearned for and struggled with.

One thing that might surprise them is that we really wanted to be more present, and we struggled to do so for some reason. Our visitors will find no evidence that other earth creatures – cats, fish, protozoa – suffered any such difficulty.

Humans though, the aliens will note, spent most of their adult lives distracted from what is happening around them by thoughts of what happened earlier or could happen later. This problem was so great among the human species that returning to “the present” became a central element of both their religious practices and popular culture.

People designed mental exercises to get better at residing in the present moment, involving listening to mountain streams or patiently watching candle flames. Others wrote poems and stories about achieving a fabled state of calm abiding — in which one was lucid, engaged, and at ease –- with such fervor that some of these stories mutated into religions.

Authors wrote books like Be Here Now, Wherever You Go There You Are, and The Tao of Pooh, and gave talks in university auditoriums and monasteries. Musicians wrote songs about the primacy of being present in life, including wistful appeals like Do You Realize?? and tragic warnings like Cat’s in the Cradle.

Being present, just like being in love, was such a ubiquitous subject for human art and conversation that it was hard to get away from it, especially as new handheld technologies made the problem worse.

Read More
Desktop version

Raptitude is an independent blog by . Some links on this page may be affiliate links, which means I might earn a commission if you buy certain things I link to. In such cases the cost to the visitor remains the same.