We humans have fallen mindlessly into the habit of overcomplicating things. And by things I mean pretty much everything. We invent value where there would otherwise be none, we apply imaginary judgements that make us anxious, we rarely see what’s in front of us simply for what it is.
Anthony de Mello has a nice line in his book The Way to Love:
“A dog is a dog; a rose, a rose; a star, a star; everything is quite simply what it is. Only the adult human being is able to be one thing and pretend to be another.”
The adult human is also able to see one thing and pretend it is another.
For Stoics like Marcus Aurelius it was a common practice to fight against this impulse, to try to see things objectively in their simplest form:
“This should be your practice throughout all your life: when things have such a plausible appearance, show them naked, see their shoddiness, strip away their own boastful account of themselves. Vanity is the greatest seducer of reason: when you are most convinced that your work is important, that is when you are most under its spell.”
The idea behind this is that most anxiety, desire and tension comes from perceptions that have been built up about a thing, but ultimately don’t reflect the true nature of the thing at all. When we remove these perceptions we remove our dependence on and fear of them.
A fun writing prompt I discovered recently via Tim Ferriss fits well with this intention towards objectivity. It goes as follows:
Imagine that you’re an alien arriving on planet Earth for the first time. You have to write a report on “the humans.” The idea is to help you look at daily life through fresh eyes. When done properly, almost everything we do can seem newly strange.
Give it a try. You can read my attempt below!
We have found the blue marble planet and observed its superior (ha!) lifeform over many calendar completions. Here is our report on the curious behaviour of “human.”
- For many hour-blocks of every day-block, human enters a mysterious hypnotic state by becoming horizontal. Human’s sight spheres are closed during these clock-ticks.
- For many hour-blocks of every day-block, human enters a mysterious hypnotic state by staring at glowing rectangles of varying sizes. Sight spheres remain open.
- Human even requires to stare at glowing rectangle when expelling waste materials into porcelain chair.
- Human sight spheres are surprisingly advanced. As well as allowing human to see objects in human’s environment, they also detect invisible problems that did not previously exist. These problems occupy human’s central processing unit for many clock-ticks.
- Human beams knowledge from paper rectangles into central processing unit via sight spheres.
- Human spends many futile clock-ticks computing ways to change the past. Human refuses to accept that it is incapable of backward time travel.
- Human appears to be capable of forward time travel and is able to experience the fear of bad occurrences long before they occur. Often they do not occur at all. Perhaps this technique prevents them.
- Human propels clear liquid through brown destroyed beans to produce brown hot liquid. Human increases work output by depositing brown hot liquid into their deposit opening. This is repeated many times per day-block.
- Human sacrifices many calendar completions in exchange for currency tokens. Human then sacrifices many currency tokens in exchange for many things it believes will elevate happiness.
- Human deletes many potential calendar completions in exchange for the pleasure of ingesting various poisons.
- Each human instance is satisfied with its own living progress until it sees the living progress of a fellow human instance.
- Each human instance seeks happiness in the opinion of fellow human instances. Human has not discovered it can be accessed within its own opinion.
- Human voice unit often overrides central processing unit causing human to think an opinion but say the opposite opinion.
- Human has many rituals. The most common appears to be the ritual watching of a human group trying with intensity to move a ball past another human group. These meetings usually take place on a green rectangle.
- Human has insatiable desire to add unnecessary complexity to simple existence.
- Human is yet to discover that the blue marble planet revolves around the burning orange plasma star. Each human instance believes it revolves around them.
- Human has potential to be better and admirably often tries to be.
- Human thrives when, despite difficult occurrences, it summons reserves of previously undiscovered resilience and does not give up.
- Through its displays of love, courage, wisdom and moderation, good human transmits good across the blue marble planet.
- Human is still learning.