What do you Worship?
It’s a significant question and one that I didn’t give enough attention to until I read this quote by David Foster Wallace:
“Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”
As a teenager, I was an atheist. And, I never stopped to consider that my lack of worship towards a religious/spiritual idea could find its expression elsewhere. In retrospect, it’s easy to see what I directed the majority of my energy and thoughts towards: sex and beautiful girls. Whether it was treating porn sites like holy scriptures or elevating the girls on my high school soccer team to idols of angelic beauty, sex became my God. My salvation lay in figuring out how to sleep with one of those angels.
Now, it doesn’t take a therapist to recognize this as an unhealthy concept of women, which unsurprisingly, did not pan out particularly well for me. However, I’m not so much interested in the consequences of my worship, but rather it’s source. Why did I choose to worship sex and beautiful girls?
Fear. Fear was the core that my worship stemmed from, and I think that’s true for most types of worship. What was my particular brand of fear? It was a fear of not being loved, of being alone, of ultimately dying alone.
This fear of loneliness is not unique to me, and it's one that I feel is paradoxically growing despite the added level of connection that technology has provided us with. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram –we’re all constantly up-to-date on where everyone is and what they’re doing, yet there’s a falseness to it. I can scroll through Facebook in a zombie-like trance for 10 minutes and in the end feel worse and more alone than when I started.
So, how to resolve this loneliness? Some common solutions are drinking, drugs, or a random night intertwined in a stranger’s limbs. Or perhaps going to a music festival, which is like a shot gun to the face of connectedeness –thousands of strangers pulsating in unison to a pounding base. Everybody talking, touching, kissing –the social barriers of standard life having been battered down by alcohol, ecstasy, and the general euphoric feeling of being a part of this connected mass of life.
I understand looking to these activities as a salve to loneliness. I certainly tried. But, the problem with pursuing any of these things as a solution is that they’re transient. They can chase away or numb loneliness, but it always comes back, oftentimes intensified. Hell, after a long night out, the prospect of seeing another person can feel so daunting that I’ve spent entire days in my bed –just laying there mired in sweat for hours on end with the piercing throb of my headache serving as the ticking second hand for my time in self-imposed isolation.
So, what is a different option? I’ll turn to another David Foster Wallace quote:
“Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties -- all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name's Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion -- these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.”
I’d like to hone in on religion because that’s where I’ve found the most help. Well, perhaps religion isn’t quite the right word, but more a way of perceiving the universe that I’ve found useful. As Carl Sagan famously said, “The Cosmos are within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”
Or phrased slightly differently by Alan Watts, “We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves’ the universe ‘peoples.’ Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”
Everything in the universe is connected –we are all one. This has helped soothe my fear of loneliness. Realizing that I am not an isolated speck drifting untethered through life, that I am not separate from the universe, but rather a unique manifestation of it –like a branch sprouting from a cosmic tree.
That being said, I’m not levitating through life now as some enlightened being who never feels alone. But, I am now able to more frequently recognize my fear of being alone when it arises and console it rather than let it drag me down to a darker place.
Nor would I say that my conception of women and sex is perfect. Twenty plus years of developing an unhealthy way of thinking is not overcome in an instant. But, where my thought pattern used to be: hot girl -> if I sleep with her, I won’t feel lonely and will be happy. Now it’s: hot girl -> if I sleep with her, I won’t feel...hold up. I’ve been here before. This thought is based on an unfounded fear, and she is just a human being like me with fears and hopes of her own. Not some panacea to loneliness.
The old thought is still there as a gut reaction, but I can now turn it in a different direction which is something I wouldn’t have done had I not stopped to ask myself: What do I worship?
Nick recently returned from having taught abroad in Spain and currently lives in San Francisco. Interested in reading more about Nick's musings? He's a combo of blunt and reflective. Roam to his candid blog where he dares to discuss topics that most people shy away from: http://bluegreenrock.com/