What’s the source of human suffering? It has something to do with loneliness.
I was driving down Shelbyville Road yesterday, pulling down the visor to block the golden, blinding light from the setting sun, and I figured out the primal source of all human suffering. Not the moment by moment thinking mistakes that create suffering in a Zen-killing way. Rather, a kind of flaw in our collective condition.
It goes something like this:
Imagine a universe so vast that the size is inconceivable–so incredible that our language and spatial reasoning and capacity for understanding are entirely insufficient to see, describe, or truly make sense of it. What we exist within and make sense from overwhelms our frame for existing, and our capacity to make sense of anything. It’s a kind of broken loop.
That’s only a problem of perception though. Imagine within that chaos, there is a large boulder moving silently in sweeping ellipses around a huge furnace of hydrogen (that is the only source of warmth for billions of miles). And on that boulder were living things (the ones that can’t conceive where they are and what they’re doing there) in a sea of limitlessness.
Among the living things on this boulder was a species whose members looked remarkably similar. Almost identical. But something got crossed in the way these creatures see and think and believe: though these living things were nearly identical, they were infatuated with their differences. Here they all were, huddled together on this boulder hurtling through space at 45,000 miles per hour. That’s mortifying. In response, they wanted badly to connect and huddle closer and make each other smile. To see what that the other person was thinking and feeling and curious about and was afraid of–to see what they thought about being on this cosmically random boulder. (There was an agreement between this species and the boulder, and then the boulder and the sun called gravity that kept them from flying off into the abyss.)
This species, in their evolution, ultimately formed systems–of government and business and communicating and the like. But these systems pit one against one another under this illusion of competition. They were designed all wrong by the species due to their limitations. These systems were designed to emphasize differences, instead of encouraging one person to lean on the person next to them. These living things were programmed to love and comfort but participated in systems that made them judge and compete.
The living creatures never did figure out that at any time they could stop competing. Design new systems driven by love. They could send robots to Mars, after all; they could compose symphonies and write novels and make one another laugh. (Even had some creatures whose job it was to make other creatures laugh.) They could create new systems. They could. But the people that could had too much to lose, so they didn’t. They just stood on the rock and hurtled through space and finished out their existence with their eyes closed.
The vastness of the universe troubled the creatures, so they stopped looking up; the differences between the living creatures troubled them, so they stopped looking left and right. Their own mortality troubled them too, so they stopped thinking abstractly. After that, they mostly looked down, only interrupting this pattern when they had to greet another living creature. They learned to do this efficiently by simply moving their lips into a kind of semi-circle that meant “Hello. I won’t hurt you.” Then they kept walking.
Eventually, they got practical. Real practical. Jobs and television and such. Most relationships were reduced to, “Are you a threat to me? If not, what can you do for me?” They invented time to mark their days on the rock. Created something called a year to mark trips around that hydrogen furnace.
They had wars. Lots of them. Wars were when these living creatures grouped themselves into geographical gangs, each with their symbols clarifying their differences called flags. Then they used their intellectual affection and creative genius and capacity for design and created things called guns and bombs so that they would no longer have to stare at their differences. They erased them with gunpowder.
It could be said that the differences were to blame; some creatures in fact blamed the differences. Others just wanted off the boulder. Still others thought a little bit longer about it and thought maybe it was a lack of tolerance for difference. Some of these living creatures wanted to make the other stop existing, and to be efficient about this went onto school campuses (where people packed themselves together for learning and personal growth) with guns and started ending as many differences as they could.
(While elsewhere on the boulder, some of the creatures were having weddings, where they promised to love forever without understanding what that meant.)
The rest realized they were on a boulder traveling through space at 45,000 miles per hour, destined for death without exception (death was programmed into their code–something the creatures called DNA), and thought that love was the only thing that made sense. But when they tried to love others they found it difficult and troublesome and sometimes painful, so they stopped trying so much. They saved the love for the creatures that looked and sounded the most like them; those closest to them. To hell with the others. (They never said this; their behavior and thinking and racism and economic systems all implied it loudly enough.)
The poor living creatures were coded to love and dream and hope and play, but one day, they (mostly) stopped. They came to see that unless everyone was in it for love, it didn’t work; those that weren’t in it for love broke the game–had the very best in living arrangements and work and power and potential. Those that abandoned love had an insurmountable advantage in terms of the things people collect, like gold and credit cards and Apple Watches.
(Some people even used to collect people; they called them slaves.)
In response, the living creatures learned to use distraction to cope and medicated themselves endlessly with spirits and sports and gadgets and pills and stories told by liars (called movies) that quieted their minds–anything to avoid having to love one another as they hurtled through space. It was all very absurd.
So the short version goes like this: Due to the perilous cosmic context of a very fragile human condition, the living creatures instinctively wanted to huddle together–to love one another. But self-designed systems encouraged them to be competitive and confrontational and mostly anonymous.
In their marrow, the creatures wanted to love and be loved but were tricked into thinking they were supposed to compete, scampering across the surface of the boulder in increasingly ridiculous patterns–thinking about their place on the boulder rather than the boulder’s place in the galaxy, and the galaxy’s place in the universe. They missed the point. They never realized that there was no such thing as a depressed astronomer.
This was the real source of all suffering.