Whilst at the pub, my friend and I began talking about the potential of psychedelics within the scientific community, as he is a student of science, and I, a student of the arts.
His position was that there shouldn’t be drugs in science, saying that psychedelics induced a psychoto mimetic effect; a deranging of the senses. He said, when you ingest a substance that has an effect on your brain, the knowledge you acquire under those effects is questionable.
To this I said, but then, could you not suggest that microscopes and telescopes are a deranging of the senses? You place your eye upon a foreign lens, and suddenly your senses are not what they previously were. Stumped, or perhaps too loaded with booze, he conceded. He then said, well, my real qualm with psychedelics is that I’ve had intelligent friends take them, and after coming out of it, they seem like entirely different people. To this I said, Well, what defines a person? One could argue, that having had this conversation, I am no longer the same person I was prior to entering it.
One could similarly argue that they dislike autumn, because with autumn comes the disappearance of the green leaf, and the arrival of the brown leaf. Following down this stream of thoughts I noticed the bizarre human tendency to cling to form. I then asked my friend, how long have we known one another? He responded, around 7 or 8 years. I then said, well, human cells supposedly regenerate entirely every six to seven years, so when we met then, I had an entirely different face. Was I the same person?
Then I wondered, what is identity?
We write letters to our future selves, or conversely read letters from our past selves, and they seem so different, so detached from where we sit currently. Am I the same me I was when I was a child? I have different interests, different friends, a different voice, and different cells. So what defines me? How am I able to connect with friends from my childhood if I am not the same person?
Memories, I concluded. Through thoughts we are able to imprint a passing moment in time and reference it within our minds, creating a connection between the two memories, and the two individuals. I then thought of my grandfather before he passed. A brain tumour had made him incoherent, rambling aimlessly with no recollection of any of the family. I was only young at the time, but I vividly remember the repetition of the phrase “he’s just not there any more”. Although visibly, he was the same man who once used to tell me about his life as a boxer and a photographer in the war; mentally, I saw no similarity. They were right, he just wasn’t there any more. We could no longer share memories, and so suddenly, he was a stranger.
Now that I think of it, relationships seem dependent upon this shared clinging to moments passed, and memories shared. One would certainly struggle making friends with someone that has dementia. Though this clinging seemed bizarre to me. It is as though we cup the sands of time in our hands, only for it to slip through the cracks between our fingers.
Our sentience has made us cognizant of the fact that we are born onto a conveyor belt toward our graves, and this brings us great discomfort. The clock never stops ticking. So we dig our heels into this temporal conveyor belt, in attempts to slow it down, to extend the party of life. Yet death remains. Not only the death which occurs at the end of ones life, but the death of each fleeting moment. With the arrival of adulthood, comes the death of childhood. Finding your first grey hair commences the end of vitality.
The very notion of nostalgia is to become indulgent in ones past.
When did this clinging begin? And why?
I believe it began with the beginning of language, which spurred the beginning of time. When man could first communicate to one another, they were able to imprint moments in time, and, share memories. We then developed drawing and the beginning of the calendar. Writing followed, along with printing, and eventually filming. All these technological mediums allowed humanity to live forever through history, collecting more and more moments in time.
Man could cup more and more of the water that is time, yet time and time again, it would inevitably slip through his fingers. History was, and always will be only an imprint upon eternity. A ripple in the constant stream which is time. It seems curious that man clings to such a slippery substance as time, and yet cling he does, much to his own discomfort, as was said by William Blake;
“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise”.
We often cling to relationships with friends or lovers in the hopes of permanence. Yet almost every relationship is ephemeral; it has to be, given the transience of identity just discussed. So then, there comes a point where the individuals involved are no longer as compatible as they once were when they entered that relationship. Then begins suffering, as a wise man once said to me: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is a choice.”
When I asked him to elaborate he said, pain is what you feel when you cut your hand. Your body responds in such a way as to make you not cut your hand again. Suffering, on the other hand, is when your body is no longer in physical pain. Suffering occurs when there is a disconnect between the mind and reality. This is where nostalgia emerges, along with regret, anger, disappointment and so on. You reference a moment in time where things are not quite as you wish them to be. Perhaps its the loss of a loved one or friend, a missed opportunity, or even just having a reality that doesn’t match up to ones ideal. From this, stems clinging. Clinging to “what if’s” and “could’ve been’s”.
The mind has the curious ability to work in opposition of the the present. The mind rejects what Plato calls, the “moving image of eternity”; the present moment.
So next time, consider when you are angry, anxious, frustrated or upset. Are you in physical danger? Or are you instead digging your heels into expectations, and attempting to grasp a handful of this ephemeral liquid which is time?